The U.S. Postal Service will run out of operational funds by the end of September unless Congress intervenes, Postmaster General Megan Brennan told members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform in a Thursday video conference.
Mail volume has dramatically slowed during the coronavirus crisis due to widespread business closures, and the USPS is bracing for a steep drop in revenue. But its postal workers remain on the front lines of the crisis, handling prescription drug shipments, lab test materials and medical supplies that are crucial to efforts to contain the virus. Mail-in voting has also allowed the democratic process to survive in the era of social distancing.
The Postal Service, which employs 650,000 people, is asking for $75 billion in aid from the government, and, according to The New York Times, another $14 billion to pay off debt related to a retirement benefits program ― a whopping $89 billion total.
Yet because the Postal Service technically operates under the executive branch, and President Donald Trump has displayed a bizarre hostility to it since taking office, it seems likely that the agency will receive some pushback.
“At a time when America needs the Postal Service more than ever, the reason we are so needed is having a devastating effect on our business,” Brennan said in a statement. “The Postal Service relies on the sale of postal products and services to fund our operations, and these sales are plummeting as a result of the pandemic. The sudden drop in mail volumes, our most profitable revenue stream, is steep and may never fully recover.”
The USPS said the pandemic will increase its net operating loss by more than $22 billion over the next 18 months and by over $54 billion over the coming years.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who is on the oversight committee, painted a dire picture of the agency’s operations in a Thursday afternoon tweet.
“The Postal Service will collapse without urgent intervention, and it will happen soon,” Connolly wrote, describing his talks with Brennan.
By Friday, a hashtag, #SaveThePostOffice, was trending nationally on Twitter.
“We may not fully realize it yet, but there’s not a single person who won’t feel the impact if it disappears,” Connolly wrote in another tweet.
Efforts to pass a fourth coronavirus relief bill were stalled in the Senate this week, as Democrats and Republicans argued over how much aid to include.
The previous, $2 trillion package included support for specific industries hit hard by the crisis ― namely, the aviation and cruise industries that have screeched to a halt as Americans follow stay-at-home orders in all but a few states.
Its passage led mail industry leaders to ask: If the airlines got so much support, why not them?
“The USPS and the mailing industry it supports ($1.6 trillion in sales and 7.3 million private sector workers) is every bit as important as the aviation industry,” National Association of Letter Carriers President Frederic Rolando said in a late March statement.
The agency’s problems, though, predate the coronavirus crisis as a result of a widespread shift to digital messaging and a federal mandate that the USPS pre-fund its retirement benefits.
This article has been updated with a statement from the Postal Service.