The COVID-19 crisis will claim countless victims. One of them could be the United States Postal Service.

Even as USPS is straining to meet demand for deliveries of medicine, food and other essentials, they are facing potential collapse as the recession crushes mail revenue.

A postal bankruptcy would be devastating for the entire country, but particularly for Maine – the state with the oldest population and the largest share of residents in rural areas. Only USPS has the capacity to get mail and packages six days a week to 160 million addresses, from urban neighborhoods to remote Maine islands.

Without a major cash infusion, the Postal Service faces financial collapse by the end of summer.

It didn’t have to come to this. In March, congressional leaders agreed to a bipartisan postal relief plan that would’ve given the Postal Service the same type of direct aid offered to the airlines, small businesses, hospitals and Amtrak. But President Trump intervened to block the postal bailout, claiming that USPS could easily rescue itself by raising prices. Despite hard evidence to the contrary, he has repeatedly claimed that USPS loses money every time it delivers a package for Amazon.

The White House is using this falsehood and the crisis as leverage to demand rate hikes, post office closures and job cuts as emergency loan conditions. As USPS officials continue to fight for a lifeline that would allow them to continue to play their vital role in our nation’s public and economic health, the service is careening toward collapse.

What could a postal bankruptcy mean for Maine?

It could be harder to get medications. Across the country, an estimated 20 percent of all Americans over 40 who receive medication for a chronic condition get their prescriptions exclusively through the Postal Service. An even greater share of the rural population relies on mail order prescriptions.

Sending or receiving any package delivery would likely be more expensive – and in some cases, impossible. According to an Institute for Policy Studies analysis, Fedex and UPS already charge extra for delivery to rural and remote ZIP codes that are home to approximately 70 million people. For package deliveries to Caribou, in northern Maine, for example, Fedex already imposes an extra $5.40 surcharge per package. Take USPS out of the picture and those rates would likely skyrocket.

Affordable mail service for everything from paying bills to sending greeting cards would evaporate. This would hit the 13 percent of Mainers without broadband access particularly hard.

Then there’s voting by mail, which could disappear if the Postal Service crumbles. In the 2016 presidential election, 250,000 Mainers voted using absentee ballots. With the current health crisis, this option should be greatly expanded – not eliminated.

Finally, a major part of Maine’s economic backbone would also be lost. The USPS directly employs 3,356 Mainers, more people than work in the state’s construction or trucking industries.

The Postal Service’s current crisis-related cash crunch comes on top of long-standing financial problems, which were largely manufactured by Congress. A 2006 law requires USPS to pre-fund its retiree health insurance requirements more than 50 years into the future. No other government agency or business is required to meet this standard. Without this health funding mandate, the Postal Service would have made money in six of the last seven years. Congress could eliminate these paper losses by simply getting rid of this requirement.

The survival of the Postal Service is not a partisan issue. Established the year before the United States became a nation, it belongs to all of us. Political leaders must take action now to approve funding to get the Postal Service through these difficult times so that it can continue to serve us for generations to come.


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