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Since the middle of March, when the coronavirus shut down much of the state and country, there have been many days I don’t get farther away from my house than the mailbox at the end of my driveway.
Like the dog, I keep an eye out for the mail carrier. Unlike the dog, I don’t bark and wag my tail.
The mail is an integral part of the fabric that holds our country together. So important was the idea, it’s mentioned specifically in the United States Constitution.
Mail delivery is a great equalizer. The mail comes regardless of your economic status or where you live.
Even today, with email and Docusign and Zoom, the mail is still the connection that helps to bind us together – and during the global pandemic, keep us supplied.
Back in March, the Pew Research Center polled Americans on their views of several federal agencies. Ratings for the U.S. Postal Service “continue to stand out: An overwhelming 91 percent say they have a favorable view of the mail delivery service.”
It’s not at all clear to me that 91 percent of Americans could agree on what day of the week it is, yet when it comes to the post office, our country is strongly united.
The mail is something – at least until President Trump and his cronies got involved – that we could all count on. Six days a week, and sometimes on Sunday if you ordered from Amazon, the U.S. Postal Service delivers.
And it delivers for a remarkably affordable price. The idea that you can send a letter anywhere in the United States for 55 cents is incredible. It’s a testament to the logistical network that has been built over generations by the Postal Service and its employees.
But the Postal Service is now under attack, from within the Trump administration and from conservatives who see a chance to undermine one of the great success stories of the government.
On Monday, the union that represents postal workers in Maine blew the whistle. As the Portland Press Herald reported, the union president said that 80,000 pieces of mail bound for western Maine would be delayed because of new policies put in place by Trump’s man at the top of the organization, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
DeJoy is a private sector logistics guy. He also happens to be a huge Republican donor. And his policies are putting the mail at greater risk.
The Postal Service faces real financial problems, a combination of four factors: technology that has reduced mail volume; a 2006 federal law that requires the organization to prefund 75 years worth of health care benefits for retirees; reduced business caused by the COVID-19-forced business slowdown; and political interference.
No other business – and certainly not government – has such a pre-funding requirement. According to experts, that creates a $6.5 billion annual shortfall for the Postal Service.
When my columns are edited, the Bangor Daily News often adds qualifiers to protect me from making broad generalizations. But here’s one I’m very comfortable making.
Republicans in Congress are content to allow the Postal Service to be undermined. Otherwise, they’d stand up to the president and ensure that this critical, basic service – which serves our citizens, our economy and our democracy itself – is able to withstand the current national emergency.
The Postal Service, with its large, diverse and unionized workforce, makes a tempting target for Republicans, who would love to drown government in a bathtub or, through their own malpractice, ensure that its most popular departments struggle to perform.
Maine Sen. Angus King gets it. Writing to the ranking member on the committee of oversight for the post office, King said: “The USPS isn’t a business – it’s a public service, designed to facilitate commerce in every corner of our country.”
The U.S. Postal Service was not created to generate a profit, and the service it provides is too important to privatize – where profits, not commitment to the public drive decisions – or to destroy.
Calling it a bailout is a disservice. Fund the Postal Service. Keep the mail coming.
David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children.