Angus King Warns Postal Service In Dire Financial Straits

Aug 10, 2020

There is growing concern about the Postal Service. Its financial condition is growing more dire as the country prepares for an election that will rely on a record number of mailed-in ballots.

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine is one of those sounding the alarms, and he spoke with Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz about his concerns.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

King: Well, I think the first thing to note is that the Postal Service, on an operating basis, is pretty close to break even. The financial problems are because of the arbitrary provision pushed onto the Postal Service in 2006 that they have to prefund 75 years of pension and health care expenses, which virtually no other business in the world has to do. And it costs them $5 billion a year, and that’s what’s putting them in financial trouble. The result of that is they are in financial trouble, and what we’re worried about is that they’re just not going to be able to do their job. And in order to try to close the gap, they’re diminishing service. They’re slowing down the mail. They’re talking about closing rural post offices, shortening hours. And that’s going to be a real problem for the people of Maine and the people of the country, particularly going into the election, where we know there’s going to be a lot of demand for mail in, absentee ballots.

Does the blame for this really go to the Trump administration, which is starting to make some of these changes? Or really does it sit with Congress, which imposed the requirement?

Well, I think it’s both. There have been bills in Homeland Security, but it never quite gets done, for whatever reason. But the Trump administration has definitely aggravated it by saying, ‘Oh, well, this is really awful. We have to cut back service and slow down the mail.’ You know, when it’s coupled with president’s constant harping on how he doesn’t like mail-in voting, it’s pretty easy to follow the dots. The CARES Act had $10 billion of a loan authorized from the Treasury to the Postal Service to get them through this year, get the finances on an even keel. They haven’t used that. The administration has tried to impose all kinds of conditions that make it unrealistic to use it. So there’s a part of the blame as well. The other piece of this is President Donald Trump doesn’t like Jeff Bezos, who owns the Washington Post and Amazon. And the president thinks that Amazon’s getting some kind of sweetheart deal from the post office on their package shipping. From the data I’ve seen, I’m not sure that’s true, but even if it is, this isn’t the time to be fighting that out, nor is it the right way to do it. To try to, in effect, squeeze the post office out of business in order to settle a personal grudge.

So what happens next? And what can Congress do at the moment to make this problem go away, at least between now and Election Day?

Well, what it can do and what it is doing, I know that the negotiations are going on right now to try to find a solution to the overall question of what should be the next steps in relief from COVID-19. And this is part of that discussion. I know that Chuck Schumer met last Tuesday with the postmaster general to try to get a better feel for exactly what we can do to fix it. So Congress has a bite at this apple if we can reach a deal on COVID-19. The key is to try to get some help in this package that we’re talking about right now and then do a long-term fix when the Congress reconvenes in January.

Do you detect enough bipartisan support for that position so that something will emerge?

You could go broke betting on what Congress will do in the future. But yes, I think there’s a broad realization that this is a problem we’ve got to address.