America is – and for some time will be — a long way from what any of us would describe as normal. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has us living in near isolation, has disrupted every aspect of our lives. Which, it should go without saying, includes the way we supply and resupply our homes and functioning businesses.
The public health experts advising the president and the governors of the states say self-quarantine is vital to flattening the curve. They say it’s the only way to ensure the number of new cases — when added to those already diagnosed and under treatment — don’t overwhelm the healthcare system.
That means a lot of things. President Donald J. Trump and the Coronavirus task force have been hard at work trying to procure and distribute essential hospital supplies, create more bed space in over-burdened cities like New York, and prevent a public panic. And, despite what the critics say, they’ve done an exceptional job considering the way this all came about and how unprepared the nation was.
Who’s at fault, well, that’s a conversation for another day. What matters now is to make sure people get the care they need and those sheltered inside their homes get the food and supplies and medicines they need to survive so they can venture out as little as possible.
Thanks to the Internet, that’s happening. People can order everything from prescriptions to crackers to toilet paper (when they can find it) – from online retailers who, most of the time, can ship it right to their front door. Eventually, those shipments may also include test kits and vaccines.
The American supply chain is an amazing, resilient thing. What most don’t know, however, is how dependent they are on the United States Postal Service for all that. There are other shippers, but only the USPS is required to provide delivery to every front door in America. For many, especially those living in remote and rural areas, it’s a lifeline.
It’s axiomatic that the USPS has been ill-managed for years. It’s short of money, deeply in debt, and has resisted pressure to reform for some time. Things need to change. Efficiencies need to be found. Accommodations need to be made. But now is not the time to force the issue. The pandemic has sent USPS costs up and revenues down. COVID-19 isn’t rain, snow, sleet, or gloom of night: it is even more unpleasant. Yet every day, six days a week, your friendly letter carrier continues to come to your door to deliver the things you need to survive this crisis – and will continue to do so until it runs out of money to operate.
Recognizing this, Congress, in the last COVID stimulus bill, granted the Postal Service new borrowing authority but it can only access those funds if it agrees to terms imposed by the Treasury Department. Unfortunately, the Treasury is reportedly using that as a lever to force policy changes that would force the Postal Service to increase prices and cut back on service.
That’s a mistake. Forcing these changes now will put further strain on the pocketbooks of the American people and financial security of American business at a time when far too many people are already in need of relief.
Reforms are needed but now is not the time to wield the carrot and the stick. The USPS can no more be allowed to shut down or curtail service during this pandemic than a hospital can be allowed to close. Its continuing function is vital to the economic and personal security of every American – especially those living in rural areas who have no affordable alternatives.
The postal service needs to be more efficient. There’s a lot that can be done, much of which USPS management, its labor unions, and its employees probably won’t like. Hopefully, they’ll be willing to give a little once the current crisis is over and, if they’re not, then the politicians in Washington need to bring the hammer down. But that’s for later, not now. This is an extraordinary time and the circumstances are unique. We need to focus on keeping the lifeblood of the nation flowing which means keeping the mail going. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin needs to reverse course and approve the borrowing of the funds needed to tide it over without any strings.