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Our postal service is under attack

Weekend voices: Susan Bigler

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

This is the traditional motto of the U.S. Postal Service, inscribed on the main postal building in New York City, an institution which is now being undermined by its own government. Since the official postal system for the American colonies (soon to be states) was established in 1775 by the Second Continental Congress, it has been a respected organization with none other than Benjamin Franklin as its first Postmaster General.

It was indispensable in the unification of the colonies and the success of the revolution and birth of our nation. It continues to be indispensable today, providing an essential service for every American. No business that runs on profit alone would deliver to the remotest regions of our land for the cost of a forever stamp.

Throughout its history, the Postal Service has played an important role in the development of our nation; from the Pony Express to the railroads to supporting the war effort with savings stamps. Now, our historic Postal Service is under attack. Held in high regard for all this time, it has struggled in recent years to adjust to the transition to electronic communication.

Where the local post office used to be the town hub and the postmaster a respected, well-known community leader; the post office has become something to avoid — as an online postage company likes to advertise. Postal carriers were welcome friends, helped and looked out for their neighborhoods; now they are pushed by such tight schedules that they dare not even wave hello.

The tight schedules are a result of the Postal Service trying to operate under an impossibly austere budget because of the steep decline in first class and marketing mail, and because of a 2006 Congressional requirement that the Postal Service prefund its retiree benefit plan 75 years into the future! No other agency has ever been made to do that. The Postal Service depends completely on postage revenue to run. It receives no tax money. Not many people know this — to borrow an often used President Trump quote.

The one aspect of the electronic communication age that has helped the Postal Service keep going is the rise in online ordering, especially Amazon.com which has the Postal Service make the “last mile” deliveries for them. This arrangement brings in saving revenue to the Postal Service and also saves Amazon in their shipping costs which gets passed to the consumer. It’s a win-win-win.

But Donald Trump doesn’t see it that way. He has been hostile to the Postal Service ever since he had a falling out with Jeff Bezos whose newspaper, The Washington Post, published some things Trump didn’t like. He has held a vendetta against Bezos and Amazon; and by association, the USPS. He has accused Amazon of being subsidized by the USPS, which is false. He continues to demand that the Postal Service raise package rates by 400%, which would only drive away Amazon and other parcel customers.

Anyway, postal rates are governed and set by an independent federal regulatory commission. Nevertheless, Trump pushed former Postmaster General, Megan Brennan for the increase, but she held fast. Not one to be denied his way, upon her retirement he had appointed a close supporter, campaign contributor, and Republican convention fundraiser, Louis DeJoy as the 75th Postmaster General.

If that isn’t enough conflict of interest? He is the former CEO of New Breed Logistics which did contracting with the USPS for more than 25 years.

Meanwhile, the USPS struggles to meet the daily delivery demands of its essential public service mission. The COVID-19 threat has taken a toll with virus-related absences and to-date 40,000 quarantined, 6,000 tested positive, and more than 60 employee COVID deaths. And Trump continues his tweet attacks, calling the Postal Service “a joke.”

The founders put in the United States Constitution a clause which requires Congress to establish post offices and postal roads. The Postal Service is protected by the Constitution to be a universal provider of mail service to the country, swift and equitable. It is evident in polls that there is strong popular support for the Postal Service. A recent PEW poll gives the USPS a 91% favorability rating and approval of financial aid. The Postal Service is just that — a public service, not a for-profit corporation!

Trump has become worried about his reelection, so he is attacking voting by mail because it will allow more people to vote, and vote safely because of the pandemic. DeJoy’s proposed changes, which also include ending Saturday delivery, closing more rural offices, and limiting delivery to more remote areas, will negatively affect successful voting by mail. In 2016, 30 million Americans voted by mail, and four states vote entirely by mail. States that allow mail-in votes have the highest percentage of voter participation. The pandemic will increase the preference of voters to take the mail-in option.

Also up for re-election in our 23rd Congressional district is incumbent Tom Reed. He voted “no” on the Moving Forward Act. He votes with Trump 89.4% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight. So much for the bipartisan problem solving that he likes to tout. Back in February he co-sponsored a bill which did pass in the House but sits in the Senate, which would remove the retiree benefit prefunding requirement. Nothing on it since.

Of the only 5 bills that he has sponsored that have passed into law, two are post office dedications. Why, if he supposedly wants to help the Postal Service, did he vote no on the bill to give it financial aid? Too unpopular with Trump right now? The 23rd district is mostly rural, people depend on postal delivery.

Thankfully, New York state has extended the “no-excuse” absentee ballot access through the November general election. It is recommended that voters allow a 14-day window for round-trip ballot mailing. The Chautauqua County Board of Elections has absentee ballot applications available now by downloading at votechautauqua.com or calling (716)753-4580 to have one mailed. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, ‘temporary illness’ may be selected by anyone as a reason. Ballots will be mailed starting Sept. 18. Vote as promptly as possible to allow the Postal Service time to deliver the expected huge increase in volume.

So please give your support to this nation’s oldest, most venerated, necessary institution. Contact Tom Reed in the House and Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, and tell them you want financial support for the USPS so it may continue its history of service into the future.

Ben Franklin may very well have said about the postal service what he did about our democracy: “It’s yours if you can keep it.”

Susan Bigler is a Sheridan resident.

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