Shifting Gears: The US Postal Service is in peril as coronavirus eats into mail deliveries

Happy Friday. We made it through another week of quarantine.

First, some good news: 

(A reminder, you can have this delivered straight to your inbox here). 

But back to the global pandemic …

The US postmaster general had a dire message for lawmakers this week: It needs help, and it needs it quickly.

In a time when many modes of transport have been deemed nonessential — looking at you, cruise ships — and others have had to dramatically pare down service to serve only what’s absolutely necessary, the post office is left in a difficult position.

Mail service is still critical for those who have medicine delivered, especially in rural communities. It’s also all that much more important as people turn to Amazon and other sites to buy things online while they’re stuck at home.

But mail volumes — USPS’ main source of revenue —  are plunging, Megan Brennan, the postmaster general, told a House committee this week. The agency faces a $13 billion revenue headwind from the pandemic, and the lingering impact could total $50 billion over a decade.

That’s why Brennan’s asking Congress for a $50 billion bailout to make up for losses and fund modernization projects, as well as $25 billion in loans from the Treasury Department.

They’d be right to listen.

Americans love the post office. Seriously. It scored a 74% in Gallup polling, compared to the Veterans Administration’s 39% or the EPA’s 43%. Compare those to congressional or presidential approval ratings, and it gets even better.

So, perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s a frequent subject for President Donald Trump — especially when he can pit such a beloved institution against the ever-divisive Amazon.

During a briefing this week, Trump was asked about claims he tried to slash aid to the USPS from the $2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress in March.  (The USPS ended up getting “at least $25 billion” when Trump signed the CARES act into law on March 27.)

“This is the new one,” Trump said on April 7. “I’m the demise of the Postal Service. I’ll tell you who’s the demise of the Postal Service, are these internet companies that give their stuff to the Postal Service.”

He continued: “They drop everything in the post office and they say, ‘You deliver it.’ And if they’d raise the prices by, actually, a lot, then you’d find out that the post office could make money or break even, but they don’t do that, and I’m trying to figure out why.”

But neither the post office’s massive financial losses, nor Trump’s claims that they’re Amazon’s fault, are new. And repeating them this week didn’t make the latter claim any less false.

Even with Amazon sending fewer packages via traditional mail every year, it’s still one of the agency’s largest customers, and by its very existence serves areas that UPS and other carriers sometimes do not.

My colleague Rachel Premack has more on USPS’ very complicated relationship with Amazon here, if you’re interested.

In other transportation news, here’s what you might have missed this week:

Until next week, stay strong — and maybe tip your mail carrier.

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