MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Another casualty of the coronavirus pandemic could be the post office. The U.S. Postal Service is running out of cash, and advocates want Congress to provide additional funding in the next stimulus bill. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: If you've checked the mail lately, you may have noticed that, well, there's not much of it.
GERRY CONNOLLY: Mail volume has collapsed. A lot of businesses have ceased to do advertising through the mail. And as a result, mail volume has collapsed.
NAYLOR: That's Congressman Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat.
CONNOLLY: They believe that it could be affected by as much as 50- or 60% between now and the end of the year in decline and volume. That's catastrophic.
NAYLOR: Connolly is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Operations. The government funding bill approved by Congress last month included a $10 billion loan for the Postal Service, but Connolly says that's not what the agency needs.
CONNOLLY: The Postal Service is insolvent. It needs debt forgiveness not debt extension, and it needs an infusion of capital right now.
NAYLOR: The Postal Service's finances have long been in sorry shape, in part because of a requirement that the agency pre-fund the future retirement benefits of its employees. The agency says it lost nearly $9 billion last fiscal year. Yet during the coronavirus pandemic, its services, which have been deemed essential, are more vital than ever. Mark Dimondstein is president of the American Postal Workers Union.
MARK DIMONDSTEIN: Just think about it in this pandemic. Information is going to people's homes on health. Medicines are going to people's homes through the post office. And even in ordinary times, there's 1.2 billion packages of medicine or, for instance, just about all of the VA serving our veteran medicines go through the postal service.
NAYLOR: President Trump, yesterday, repeated the discredited claim that the Postal Service wouldn't be losing money if it charged more for the packages it delivers from Amazon and other Internet companies. In fact, the post office makes money on packaged deliveries. Dimondstein says the Trump administration has made no secret of its desire to eventually privatize the Postal Service.
DIMONDSTEIN: It's in writing. That's their plan. That's their policies. And, of course, what it would mean to the people of the country is - this small-d democratic right to have postal services no matter who we are and where we live would disappear or be severely diminished.
NAYLOR: A Postal Service spokesman says while the agency appreciates the limited emergency borrowing authority, it's concerned that a loan is not enough. Under a worst-case scenario, the spokesman says, the Postal Service could run out of money. Congressman Connolly says the next stimulus bill should provide a cash infusion of $25 billion to the Postal Service as well as forgiving the agency's debts. He notes lawmakers provided 50 billion to help the airline industry.
CONNOLLY: The Postal Service has been struggling for 14 years, and it is an essential service we all count on. And if the airline industry qualified for assistance, it is time for Congress and the White House to address their needs.
NAYLOR: Without that assistance, Connolly warns, the Postal Service could run out of cash by June.
Brian Naylor, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF TINARIWEN'S, "TIWAYYEN")
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