The United States Postal Service has recently come under threat from the Trump administration, which has threatened to cut funding to the agency due to their financial losses over the years. These threats to the USPS comes at a crucial point in the agency’s history, where it will be largely responsible for conducting the 2020 election which will predominantly take place through mail-in ballots.
The USPS is currently the largest retail network and mail provider in the United States, and it is in charge of processing and delivering 48% of the world’s total mail supply. The USPS is an independent part of the government that was specifically authorized by the U.S. Constitution, responsible for providing comprehensive mail coverage throughout the country, even in rural or insular areas that may not otherwise receive coverage. Because of this, the USPS has an extensive network of distribution centers and offices across the U.S. that are maintained by over 500,000 workers. This causes the agency to bear significant costs due to its obligations to pay for its employees’ wages and pensions, as well as its responsibility to provide mail coverage in locations where it may not be profitable to do so.
Although the Trump administration has harshly criticized the USPS for being inefficient due to its financial losses in recent years, if we look at the historical data we can see that the agency is not performing particularly poorly at the moment. Throughout the last 60 years, the USPS has experienced yearly losses far more frequently than they have had profits. The current losses of the USPS are not as significant as they have been in the past, even though the movement against the USPS has gained more traction recently than ever before.
Ultimately, the USPS, like any other federal agency, is not intended to function for profit in the first place. When we say that the USPS is bearing “losses,” we are essentially saying that they are using up government funding, just like any other federal program. Even though the United States spends over $700 billion in their defense budget each year, this is rarely characterized as a “loss” in the same way that the USPS funding has been. The government maintains an obligation to fund the USPS, regardless of its profitability, as it is a public service like any other and an essential part of our government.
This is not to say that the USPS isn’t experiencing financial problems, as it is, and these issues surely need to be addressed. However, the Trump administration’s growing desire to try to cut the agency’s funding during such a tumultuous election cycle shows that they may have other objectives than simply addressing its financial turmoil. President Trump has repeatedly criticized the process of mail-in voting, regardless of the fact that the current COVID-19 crisis makes mail-in ballots the only way for citizens to safely vote without possibly exposing themselves to the virus. A majority of these mail-in ballots will likely be facilitated by the USPS, although if the agency experiences funding cuts right now, it may not be able to get every vote in on time. A crippled postal service could potentially leave millions of ballots at risk of not being counted, which could ultimately have a significant impact on the outcome of the November election.
Nevertheless, President Trump has already confirmed his plans to try to cut $25 billion in funding that was supposed to go to the agency as part of the coronavirus stimulus package. He has also appointed a new Postmaster General, William DeJoy, who has already cut the hours of many USPS employees, and has been supportive of Trump’s calls to cut the agency’s funding. There have also already been documented cases of the USPS removing mailboxes in places such as Portland, Oregon, which has held consistent protests against the Trump administration.
Although Congress is technically in recess right now, it has scheduled an emergency hearing on August 24th to question DeJoy and investigate the potential impact of these actions against the postal service. In order to ensure this crisis does not lead to voter suppression, the USPS needs to receive financial support from the government until the end of this election cycle, at minimum.
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