Trump rejected approving a bailout package that would rescue the US Postal Service: Report
The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in the United States has plunged the US Postal Service into dire financial straits, as more Americans than ever rely on post offices to deliver necessary medicine and supplies, especially in underserved rural areas.
And as the coronavirus crisis has pushed over a dozen states to postpone their presidential primaries, move to conduct them entirely by mail, or both, the Postal Service's lack of funding could impact ongoing and upcoming 2020 elections by harming states' efforts to expand absentee voting and vote-by-mail.
House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney and Rep. Gerry Conolly, who runs the subcommittee that oversees the Postal Service, sounded the alarm that the agency could run out of funding altogether by June if Congress doesn't act soon.
"Based on a number of briefings and warnings this week about a critical fall-off in mail across the country, it has become clear that the Postal Service will not survive the summer without immediate help from Congress and the White House," the two said in a March 23 joint statement, calling on Congress to appropriate $25 million in emergency funds to the agency.
But President Donald Trump, who has been vocally hostile to the idea of expanding vote by mail, is actively opposed to any measures to help the Post Office and refused to sign the CARES Act stimulus package if it included a bailout for the agency, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.
"We told them very clearly that the president was not going to sign the bill if [money for the Postal Service] was in it," an administration official told the Post. "I don't know if we used the v-bomb, but the president was not going to sign it, and we told them that."
The significant decline in Americans using the Postal Service, which operates as a semi-independent government agency that doesn't run on taxpayer funding, is only exacerbating existing financial woes which were manufactured in part by Congress.
The agency is especially burdened by 2006 legislation that required the agency to pre-fund 75 years' worth of employee pensions in advance. The service saw its annual losses double to $8.8 billion in 2019, and currently has $11 billion in outstanding debt.
In addition to the agency's chronic lack of funding, postal workers have reported facing hazardous conditions on the job due to the coronavirus crisis with little to no protective equipment.
Postal Services employees have told outlets including Business Insider, the Federal News Network and ProPublica that while they are designated as essential employees and come in contact with hundreds of pieces of mail every day, they lack consistent access to masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves to stay safe on the job.
While the Postal Service maintains they are providing mail carriers with the appropriate protective equipment, two postal workers told Insider's Ashley Collman that they've had to make their own hand sanitizer, purchase their own gloves out-of-pocket, work in unsanitary mail trucks, and encounter people not following proper social distancing protocols while working their routes.
Other workers told ProPublica that they were pressured to continue to work their routes and not take sick days even while experiencing coronavirus symptoms, which the agency disputed. So far, at least 500 of the Postal Service's 600,000-person workforce have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least 19 have died from complications stemming from the disease, the Post reported.
While the stimulus package signed into law by President Donald Trump includes $400 million in election assistance grants to states, election access advocates argue that amount doesn't come close to what's required to ensure every state can run a fair election that gives every voter an opportunity to cast a ballot.
The non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice estimated in a recent report that Congress needs to allocate at least $2 billion to states in order to ensure that states can implement safeguards including online voter registration, expanded no-excuse absentee voting and vote by mail, and enacted measures to make polling places safer.
Tiffany Muller, the President of the advocacy group Let America Vote, told Insider in a statement that the $2 billion in election assistance funding they and the Brennan Center are calling on Congress to allocate should "include pre-paid postage for all ballots so everyone's voice can be heard regardless of income," adding, "if additional funds are necessary to ensure the United States Postal Service can operate, Congress should provide those funds."
And while the stimulus bill extended the Postal Service greater flexibility to borrow up to $10 billion from the federal government, it didn't extend USPS any emergency government funding or eliminate its $11 billion in outstanding debt, two of the measures that Maloney and Connolly called for.
The Post reported that while Congress initially intended on giving the Postal Service a $13 billion grant, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin stepped up in to quash the grant, telling lawmakers, "you can have a loan, or you can have nothing at all."
"To give it $10 billion of additional credit is, frankly, a meaningless gesture. It's a slap in the face, and it's not what they need," Connolly told the Federal News Network. "They don't need more debt capacity, they need debt forgiveness."