Count first-class postage among the casualties in the coronavirus pandemic.

Like retail sales and airline seats, mail volume has plummeted as businesses scale back. Like employers in other industries, the U.S. Postal Service is going to need support from the federal government so it can ride out this unprecedented period without serious structural damage. Congressional Democrats appear to see that, but Republicans – especially the Trump administration – are resistant to giving the Postal Service, a government agency, the same kind of assistance that Congress is giving to industries.

That would be a double mistake. The USPS employs hundreds of thousands of workers across the country, and their paycheck has the same impact on their families and communities that any other wage earner’s does. And the Postal Service’s commitment to serve every address in the the country is a vital economic network, especially in rural areas.

Mail volume has been declining for years, but the Postal Service has stayed afloat before the current crisis because of its role in e-commerce. Private companies can take advantage of the Postal Service’s broad reach, providing “last-mile” delivery that, in many cases, would be too expensive for smaller companies to duplicate. Forcing private companies to deliver everywhere the Postal Service goes would jack up prices for rural customers and effectively shut off markets to manufacturers and retailers at a time when home delivery takes a bigger share of the general economy.

There are a lot of unaddressed issues that should be in Congress’ next pass at emergency response legislation. But keeping the U.S. Postal Service solvent belongs on the list. If any organization is too big to fail, it’s this one.

RAMP UP PRODUCTION OF PROTECTIVE GEAR

Since the first confirmed case of coronavirus, front-line workers have sounded the alarm: They don’t have enough of the protective gear they need to help people in this public health emergency.

Masks, gloves and gowns are not expensive items. They are invaluable, however, when you send people into an environment where they could be exposed to a highly contagious virus. This equipment is needed not just by doctors, nurses and other hospital staff, but also by police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel who are called into action every day. They rush to the aid of people who have overdosed, people who are unconscious and people who suffer from dementia, but first responders are forced to ration protective gear. Unless those in need are known to have a fever, cough or some other clear signs of coronavirus infection, we send in these first responders without protection.

The unions representing nurses, firefighters and other front-line workers have started a campaign to get the federal government to take action. They are calling on the government to use its full authority under the Defense Production Act to ramp up the manufacturing of these supplies.

Not everyone can work from home while social distancing. As long as some people are putting themselves in harm’s way, the least the rest of us can do is make sure they have the tools they need to do it safely.

FOR GRADUATIONS, BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

Next month should be the season for high school graduations, but they have all joined the long list of events that have had to be canceled to meet with the challenge of coronavirus.

But Portland Public Schools have put their commencement ceremonies back on the calendar at a slightly later date. Assuming that social distancing rules will have been lifted by then, Portland’s three high schools will have in-person graduations during the first week of August.

We hope that they can pull it off, and other school districts will be able to join them. Finishing high school is a rite of passage that can’t be fully recognized with a diploma in the mail. Students and their families should be able to celebrate the achievement together, as long as that’s safe.

An August graduation is definitely a break with tradition, but if the schools and seniors can pull it off, a whole community exhausted by social distancing will be celebrating along with them.

 


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