For years, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has struggled financially. While in the 1990s USPS was routinely turning a profit, the advent of digital services and the popularization of email led to sharp decline in customer volume and revenue.
Since the financial crisis known as the Great Recession that started in 2007, USPS has not been a profitable organization. While it has seen its fair share of controversy over the years, especially over funding and resources, 2020 may be a watershed moment in the history of the service as the coronavirus has thrust mail-in ballots into the spotlight.
President Donald Trump claims without evidence that widespread mail-in voting would necessarily lead to widespread voter fraud. He also characterized USPS as a “joke” earlier this year due to its poor financial record.
Earlier this year, Trump appointed a new postmaster general to run USPS named Louis Dejoy. Dejoy is a proponent of restructuring the agency in light of its financial troubles, but critics say the changes are reducing USPS’ effectiveness.
Dejoy admits that there have been “unintended consequences” from the changes, which include keeping strict schedules, prohibiting overtime, implementing a hiring freeze and pushing for the early retirement of nonunion employees.
There are also concerns that mailboxes and trucks are being taken away or decommissioned, although it is unclear whether some are being taken away as part of the restructuring plan or simply being replaced.
Democrats are proposing a US$25 billion financial aid package to shore up the postal service’s finances and have also proposed halting operational changes to the organization.
Prominent Democrats are claiming that Trump and Dejoy are purposefully hurting USPS for political reasons. US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has said that President Trump was instituting a “campaign to sabotage the election by manipulating the Postal Service to disenfranchise voters.”
For his part, Trump has sent mixed signals on USPS. In regards to Democrats’ proposed funding bill, the president has said that less funding would make it harder to implement mail-in voting, suggesting that would be a good thing in light of his unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud as a result of mail-in ballots.
However, Trump also said that he would sign a stimulus bill that has USPS funding in it and that he “encouraged everybody to speed up the mail, not slow the mail.”
Republicans cry foul
The run up to the 2020 election has seen its fair share of controversy on both sides of the aisle.
While Democrats have accused the Trump administration of purposefully hurting USPS, some Republicans have claimed that the coronavirus and the response from the media is part of a strategy to rig the election against Trump.
Democrats say that Trump’s poor handling of the virus is to blame for the controversy surrounding mail-in ballots as it would not have been a prominent issue if the virus had been kept under control.
Despite legitimate concerns that the US Postal Service could collapse under the added pressure brought by widespread mail-in voting, there is no evidence that mailed ballots lead to mass fraud.
Other conservatives, like former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove, claim that allegations the Trump administration is trying to sabotage the agency is slander.
“[Democrats’ accusations are] entirely politics … it’s fearmongering and it is unjustified by the facts,” Rove claimed. Similarly, Republican Senator Tom Cotton characterized the concerns over USPS as a “ploy by Democrats to raise money from gullible liberals.”
A USA Today fact check deemed Democrats’ allegations that the Trump administration was intentionally hobbling the postal service in order to interfere with the election as “Partly false,” adding that any problems that arise during the election will most likely be due to organizational failures on the part of USPS, not conservative meddling.
“It is false to say mail is intentionally being slowed, despite reports that a new USPS system might inherently cause delays. The Trump Administration said the president did not direct USPS to slow down its deliveries, and USA TODAY found no evidence of that claim being true either,” the piece argued.
Dejoy to testify
In light of the controversy, Dejoy is set to testify to the House Oversight Committee next week. Dejoy is a longtime Republican benefactor and “major Trump donor.”
USPS lost nearly US$9 billion last year due to its budget shortfall. According to Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, any changes to the agency amid the pandemic are unlikely to be popular with the American people.
In a letter to Dejoy, embattled Republican Senator Susan Collins wrote that she shares “the goal of putting the USPS back on a financially sustainable path” but added that “this goal cannot be achieved by shortchanging service to the public.”
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