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We have never needed the United States Postal Service (USPS) more than we do today! Throughout the pandemic crisis, the postal service has been a critical lifeline for the millions of Americans, particularly seniors and people living with disabilities, who would otherwise be forced to leave their homes for necessities like prescription medications and household essentials. This has been particularly crucial in rural America where the digital divide still looms and the services of the USPS serve as a lifeline to the rest of the world.
The USPS is in desperate need of a cash infusion to continue to perform its constitutionally-based duty to provide universal mail service to all citizens, regardless of geography or zip code, at uniform price and quality. Nationwide, USPS revenues having been declining in recent years, driven by everything from commercial competition to changing consumer habits, including increased use of the internet. And then came the pandemic. Like many businesses across the country, USPS has been hit hard. The Postal Service is projecting a major shortfall this year because of the pandemic,with first class mail volume down about 30%, as well as declining revenues for items like business advertisements, catalogues and other mail. Only package deliveries have increased in volume. Without Congressional action, the USPS could be insolvent within the year.
A USPS shutdown would be devastating for the entire country, but especially for rural communities. The USPS was established in the Second Continental Congress of 1775 and, for nearly 250 years, its operations have been guided by the universal service obligation. This guarantees regular postal service to every American residence and business at a standard, affordable price. No area of the country is discriminated against, no matter how costly or difficult to reach.
For rural America, USPS provides service to everyone, not just to a local post office or to recipients of packages on one of the selective lucrative routes used by commercial competitors. USPS provides delivery service to the ‘last mile” where rural residents live and work. There has been no better example than the performance of the USPS during the COVID-19 crisis. More than ever, Americans relied on the Postal Service as a lifeline to deliver medicine, ecommerce products and mail and package deliveries. This has been especially critical in rural areas, particularly for those without access to broadband and internet services.
The CARES Act provided USPS with access to an initial $10 billion in borrowing authority for recovery from the pandemic; however the Trump Administration now suggests that the funding is conditional on approval of major changes in operations, including a redefinition of essential services, significant increases in package delivery rates and an assault on the universal service mandate. Without the mandate to serve the “last mile”, less profitable rural post offices and postal routes would likely be targeted for closure and more costly “rural surcharges” would be added for delivery services to harder-to-reach zip codes. Higher costs for mailing/shipping could even discourage rural residents from buying anything but the essentials, putting a further damper on the bottom line of the U.S. business community which desperately needs increased spending by American consumers as part of the recovery. This discrimination based on geographic location would grossly undermine the USPS mission to connect all Americans.
The challenge to rebuild the U.S. economy will be significant and nowhere will the challenge be greater than in rural America. The goal must be to build a 21st century economy by both expanding the number and breadth of healthy communities and jump-starting a more equitable and diverse landscape of resilient local and regional economies. To revive rural economies in the post-pandemic world, we must stimulate entrepreneurial activity and engage all the essential institutions in rural communities. Among those essential building blocks are post offices which play an outsized role in everyday life in rural America. Not only are they a significant employer of rural residents, but they are a hub of local commerce. The constitutionally-mandated affordable services they provide protect rural residents and their business communities from escalating costs of doing business. There is no question but that the absence of USPS would result in higher costs and less-than-universal service to rural businesses and residents.
With more than 13,000 rural postal retail locations, the USPS is the backbone of a rural economy that is home to thousands of cooperative businesses and their member-owners. Just as rural electric cooperatives provide reliable power to millions of square miles in 47 states, the USPS provides affordable “last mile” mail and package delivery services to thousands of cooperative business enterprises and their member-owners in much of that same territory.
The cooperative business community and its rural membership depend on the USPS to enable commerce to happen in all parts of rural America. In many remote and rural parts of America, the postal system is the only affordable delivery system and service is an economic lifeline for small businesses and consumers alike. Other delivery businesses, like FedEx and UPS, don’t locate their offices in remote rural areas, because it’s simply not profitable. Instead, they rely on the USPS for last mile delivery to final destinations those rural remote areas. This ultimately means that without the USPS, delivery service to those remote areas may not continue. Instead, rural residents and small business owners would have the burden of traveling to larger towns to meet their mailing needs and it’s likely that businesses might lose sales volume.
The quality of rural life is dependent upon a functioning and reliable postal service. Much as cooperatives provide rural America with a network of community-based business enterprises, the network of local post offices and the personnel who are the USPS workforce are grounded in the communities they serve.
With democratic governance as a core cooperative principle, the cooperative community also respects the role the USPS plays in assuring all rural residents the ability to vote by mail.
The leadership of the U.S. Postal Service needs to focus on ways to ensure that USPS can meet the operational challenges that will come with ongoing pandemic-related volume of mail, as well as the increased volume that will come with the processing of ballots for the November elections. This is not the time for making administrative changes that will reduce operations. It’s also not the time for raising the prices for package delivery services that will harm, not help, Main Street businesses and consumers. While there clearly is room for improvements in postal service operations, that’s a discussion for another day.
Congress and the Administration must act now to save the USPS. The U.S. House of Representatives has already included the USPS in the third stimulus package that they have passed, the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act and it’s likely to pass additional legislation in support of USPS. It’s now time for the U.S. Senate to make USPS a priority and take up this legislation. Once the Senate has acted, the President needs to sign it into law! The bill includes $25 billion in emergency appropriations and elimination of the Postal Service’s current debt.
The Administration also needs to immediately allow the USPS to access the $10 billion in borrowing authority that was already approved in the recently enacted CARES Act.
The cooperative community needs to engage and make its views about USPS known to the President and to their representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
Source: The Cooperative Community Coalition
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With over 60,000 cooperatives representing the interests of roughly 100 million Americans, the cooperative community is one of the essential building blocks of the U.S. economy. We are joined in that distinction by the United States Postal Service that currently fulfills its Constitutionally-mandated universal service through a network of more than 13,000 rural postal retail locations spread across the country.
We are members of that cooperative community and, as private citizens, we’re concerned that the U.S. Post Office that was created by our Founding Fathers is in jeopardy of ceasing to exist. What worries us the most is the risk that we will lose the mandate for universal service that currently provides “last mile” service to individuals and businesses in the harder-to-reach parts of this country. It’s about the current quality of rural life, but it’s also about the future of rural America. Some would argue that there need to be improvements in postal service operations and we maintain that it’s a conversation for another day. Right now the focus should be on the near term solvency of the USPS and that’s something that the Congress and The Administration can do something about right now.
We hope you’ll join us in speaking up and registering the cooperative community’s support for the U.S. Postal Service!
The Cooperative Community Coalition