Reviews | Kirsten Gillibrand: How USPS Can Help During Coronavirus

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The United States Postal Service is an institution with roots older than the Constitution itself. Not only did it survive the snow, rain, heat and darkness of the night, but it also endured civil war, two world wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War and many long recessions. .

Along the way, it has provided millions of jobs for the middle class, including men and women of color when almost every other industry shunned them. Its infrastructure – from horses to trains to jets – allowed for an unprecedented expansion of commerce. Notably, the Postal Service increasingly serves as the bloodstream of our democracy, enabling millions of Americans every year to conveniently and safely vote.

Yet today it looks like the post office may not survive the summer as it faces twin threats of the Covid-19 pandemic and deeply flawed federal policy. The economic downturn drained his finances, and in 2006 Congress forced the agency to pre-finance retirement and health care obligations 75 years in advance – a policy that does not apply to any other federal organization.

Worse yet, the current administration is focused on accelerating his demise. President Trump, who on Friday called the Postal Service a “joke,” is essentially holding the agency hostage, refusing to approve emergency funding unless it increases its delivery rates, which it says analysts, could artificially inflate its prices.

The postal service needs more than rescue, it needs reinforcements. I have a three-step solution that will strengthen the post office, provide financial security to millions of Americans, and reinvigorate our voting rights.

First, let the post office go back to its roots, and provide basic banking services to millions of Americans without a bank account or those forced to use predatory financial products like payday lenders. Almost 10 million American households do not have a bank account, forced to use expensive fringe financial products. Even before the pandemic, these households were spending a total of $ 100 billion a year to cash checks, send money to relatives and take payday loans for their bills. It’s expensive to be poor in America.

During the Great Depression, postal banking services flourished, serving many of the poorest families. My proposal, the Postal Banking Act, would serve a similar population by leveraging the postal service’s 30,000+ locations to create non-profit banking access in every community across the country, from low-income urban neighborhoods to rural areas.

The post office is said to offer low-cost checking and savings accounts similar to other banks, access to services such as ATMs and mobile banking, and low-interest loans for families. looking for a financial bridge to cover the cost of food or heating. Not only would this allow families with little income to keep their own money, but a 2014 postal service inspector general’s report discovered that a similar version of postal banking could generate $ 9 billion in revenue per year.

Second, we must eliminate the mistaken policy of prefinancing pensions and health care. The 2006 law requiring the service to fund its health care and pension obligations 75 years in advance costs billions of dollars a year. Even the president’s postal working group determined that if the service had been allowed to use the same pay-as-you-go policy as all other agencies, it would have been operationally profitable before the pandemic.

Such changes, coupled with the additional income, would mean that post offices on main streets of rural America and in underserved downtown areas would remain open. Since the current administration has emergency funding blocked for the postal service and its more than 600,000 employees, it is clear that an additional source of income is of crucial importance.

Finally, the need for the Post to protect our democracy has never been greater. As Election Day approaches, public health experts are warning voters to avoid crowds and long lines. Americans should never have to risk their lives to vote. Fortunately, many states have strong postal voting systems in place that, when updated to meet today’s needs, can serve American voters in every community. And it will be the Post which will deliver these bulletins, acting as the engine of the democratic process.

Opponents of these reforms will not be hard to find. Big banks, payday lenders and those looking to close rural offices and privatize the post office have blocked the idea of ​​postal banking for decades. President Trump and top Republicans in Congress oppose universal postal voting, accusing, wrongly, that he favors the Democrats.

But the overwhelming need for transformative change is greater than ever. And the postal service can deliver it.

Kirsten Gillibrand is a Democratic senator from New York and a former presidential candidate.

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