Keeping the Postal Service Public

The United States Postal Service (USPS) provides invaluable services for Americans—brightening our days by bringing messages from friends and family, providing access to information and the marketplace for all Americans without regard to geography or ability, and providing door to door services for people with limited mobility or in rural areas–bringing life-saving medicines and other medical products and supplies to those in need.

Undoubtedly, this reliability is what makes the USPS the most popular government agency in the country with 88 percent of Americans (87 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats) giving the agency a strongly favorable rating. The postal service is so essential to our country it was enshrined in our Constitution.

However, the steadfast connectivity provided by the USPS is what is most threatened by the recent proposal by the Trump Administration to privatize it. If a corporation were to be at the helm of the nation’s postal delivery service, who knows what facility closures, service limitations, price hikes, and other harms may befall consumers. This is not conjecture; it’s exactly what happened when various governments have tried privatizing public services like mail delivery in the past.

Privatization has led to alarming price spikes for services. For example, when the City of Chicago switched to public-private parking meter scheme, Indiana privatized a toll road, or when communities privatized their drinking water systems. The negative outcome of privatization is not limited to the United States. Costs were shown to have increased and wages were cut for workers when European nations privatized their postal services.

As an agency that employs 600,000 federal workers, threats to employees’ wages and jobs also must be part of the consideration of risks posed by privatization. That’s why postal workers are protesting the Trump Administration’s apparent moves toward turning the USPS over to a private company.

Postal workers, letter carriers, consumer groups, rural organizations and others joined together to form A Grand Alliance, for which Public Citizen is a steering committee member, to save the postal service. A Grand Alliance used Postal Heritage Day on July 26 address the threat of privatization—a threat that’s not just facing workers, but also shippers and their customers who could see prices surge based on the whims of a corporate postal service. (In fact, the potential impact on shippers and Trump’s timing regarding this postal shake-up—just happening to fall smack dab during a feud with Amazon—has raised more than a few eyebrows.)

Since corporations constantly strive to increase their bottom lines, it’s pretty clear that a private postal service would cut off delivery routes and post offices that don’t serve dense enough populations. The threat that rural residents would likely have service cut down or ended is what has made lawmakers from less populated states some of the most vocal opponents against Trump’s administration’s push for postal privatization.

If there is so much support for the postal service, what is behind the current push to privatize it? Unsurprisingly, it’s money. Budget shortages for the USPS are being used by Trump to justify the postal privatization and reorganization plan. Trump has said that the USPS’s budget model is “unsustainable” yet the agency’s funding issues were caused by Congress—they are primarily a consequence of a 2006 law requiring USPS to pay in advance (pre-fund) health and pension benefits for 75 years—a mandate that does not apply to any other agency. Certainty this situation must be reexamined as can there be a discussion of ideal pricing for mailing first-class letters, shipping packages, and other services. However, these conversations must happen in public as part of a national debate, not behind closed doors in corporate board rooms.

Moreover, we could also take a broader and bolder view of the future of the postal service. More of our nation’s leaders should be seeking to expand the services provided at post offices. These brick and mortar buildings already stand in every community far and wide, and could offer a real banking opportunity to people who have been abandoned by the Big Banks and preyed upon by shady financial services like check cashing services and payday loan companies. That’s why Public Citizen and our allies in the Take on Wall Street campaign support a public postal banking option. This option would start with small fee-free ATMs, the expansion of money transfers and other simple changes. The USPS is already poised to make these shifts, which would offer even more convenience for Americans, if there only were the political will to do it. Eventually, the USPS could again go back to providing savings accounts or even affordable checking accounts and small dollar loans.

But, before we can get to a postal service with expanded services for our communities, we must stop this very real threat of privatization presented by “The Art of the Deal” Trump and his corporate presidency. In fact the task force he created on the postal service, headed by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, recently provided details to the president and the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) is expected to hold a hearing on the topic after Labor Day.

So, NOW is the time to call your U.S. Representative to tell her or him to co-sponsor the bipartisan resolution (H. Res. 993) to keep the postal service public. And, if you are on social media, you can tweet at Senator Claire McCaskill (D- Mo.), (@clairecmc) who is Ranking member of HSGAC, to thank her for her strong opposition to postal privatization.

Rain, sleet or shine—we need a postal service that will be there for everyone, not just those people who will guarantee a profit for some corporation.