With another round of COVID-19 stimulus funding being considered in Congress, questions loom about support for the United States Postal Service (USPS). At a press conference Wednesday, citing concerns due to the USPS funding crisis, American Postal Workers Union (APWU) President Mark Dimondstein, joined by Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos and Washington State Secretary of State Kim Wyman, laid bare the funding crisis facing the agency and advocated for increased support. In particular, Dimondstein stressed the importance of a functional USPS to election systems nationwide, especially as more states consider expanding access to vote-by-mail or scaling up use of absentee ballots.
“What better way is there to help bind the people in the country together than helping to enable and enhance [the] hard fought democratic rights of both the information around the election, as well as access to the ballot box itself?” said Dimondstein. “It’s not a partisan effort, it’s an effort that increases voter participation, wherever it’s done.”
Condos affirmed the long history and importance of vote by mail and the USPS. “US military service members have been voting by mail since the Civil War,” said Condos. “This is not new.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed several weaknesses in American infrastructure, but recent elections in Wisconsin and Ohio highlight the challenges facing USPS including longer than normal delivery times. In Wisconsin, elections officials were investigating several bins of undelivered absentee ballots. Officials in Ohio, which concluded its election period earlier this week, noted longer turnaround times in mail service delayed voters receiving and returning ballots in time to be counted.
A functional USPS is mission critical as more states explore vote by mail either through adopting an all mail voting system or encouraging increased absentee ballot use, but Condos noted that voting is not the only reason to ensure USPS continues to operate. He said that many aspects of American society rely on USPS and stressed its vitality to democracy. “We all depend on a dependable postal service.”
The agency remains popular, with a recent poll from the Pew Research Center showing that 91% of respondents viewed the USPS as favorable. The Center for Disease Control and the U.S. Census Bureau were the next most favorable agencies.
Federal stimulus funds have bailed out businesses across several industries, and two-thirds of the public support funding the USPS in the next stimulus bill, according to a public opinion survey commissioned by APWU through YouGov.
Despite public support for funding the USPS, President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have blocked funding for the agency. Reports suggest the Treasury Department may “impose tough terms on an emergency coronavirus loan from Congress, which would fulfill President Trump’s longtime goal of changing how the service does business.”
Trump has told the press that the post office should not only raise rates four times, but also that he would not support any aid to the agency unless it did so. When asked about the president’s comments, Dimondstein questioned the administration’s agenda.
“The idea that the president of the United States did not tell Boeing that they needed to raise the price of airplanes to get a bailout or hotels that they need to charge more for their rooms, [but] is now telling the post office that you will not get any relief from this administration, unless you raise package rates for it,” said Dimondstein. “If you destroy the package business in the post office you can put it on a death spiral.”
Anoa Changa is Prism’s electoral justice staff reporter. Follow her on Twitter @thewaywithanoa.