One of the few trucks to drive the lonely dirt road to my family’s place in the rural heart of Texas lately has been the U.S. Postal Service truck. Like many jurisdictions during COVID-19, in my neck of the woods there are limited retail sales in brick-and-mortar stores — primarily for life’s bare “necessities” — making home package delivery now more critical than ever.

But even before the current public health crisis and Main Street store closures, rural communities relied on the Postal Service to deliver more than just the mail. The mailman delivers a grandmother’s heart medicine and the neighbor’s insulin, not to mention birthday gifts, care packages and even the special-order parts needed to fix the family minivan.

Those sorts of essential deliveries and that long reliance date back to the earliest days of the republic. Contrary to what is often claimed, the Postal Service was not spawned by Woodrow Wilson’s bureaucratic brand of big government progressivism. It was not born out of the Great Depression as part FDR’s New Deal. Nor is it a bell-bottomed hand-me-down of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.

No, the Postal Service practically predates America itself. Benjamin Franklin — a distinguished Founding Father — is one of the most prominent advocates of a national postal service. He served as a colonial postmaster for the British in Philadelphia and the Continental Congress made him the nation’s first Postmaster General in 1775, years before our Constitution was adopted.

In fact, our founders so valued reliable mail service that they enshrined the postal power in Article One of the Constitution just to be sure that our new nation would be guaranteed the authority to operate it. It isn’t an “implied” authority divined from the elastic “Necessary and Proper Clause” that justified the Second National Bank in 1819 and the federal regulation of wheat farms in the 1930s. Instead, it is among the very few specific enumerated powers given to Congress in Article One, Section 8. Right there next to Congress’s authority to borrow and coin money, raise an Army and support a Navy, the Constitution grants Congress the power “to establish Post Offices and post Roads.”

Our constitutionally authorized post offices are now at risk as the Postal Service teeters on the brink of financial ruin. Like other service providers, the Postal Service faces declining revenues and rising costs during the pandemic. Without an enhanced federal appropriation and additional borrowing authority, the service will be out of money and potentially out of business by Christmas if mail volumes — down 33 percent so far this year — continue to plummet.

As part of the COVID-19 “stimulus” package, Congress increased the Postal Service’s borrowing authority by $10 billion. But like so many things in Washington, that authority came with strings attached — namely, “terms and conditions” to be imposed by the Treasury Department. Those conditions remain under negotiation, but Treasury’s own 2018 Task Force previously recommended anti-competitive measures requiring Postal Service price hikes and curtailed package delivery. Measures counter to the purpose and existence of national mail delivery.

Coincidentally, competitors like UPS and FedEx have lobbied for many of these regulatory changes. The Postal Service has resisted because it rightly believes that raising prices above market levels will make its package delivery service less competitive and further steer customers to their competitors. And these competitors can charge as much as 10- to 25-times the price of the USPS to deliver the same parcels.

In the midst of an unprecedented economic downturn and elevated unemployment, now more than ever, we consumers rely on USPS package delivery services for everything from life-saving medicines to do-it-yourself repair kits. Now more than ever, we can ill-afford higher shipping-and-handling fees.

Reform is needed. But throwing the baby out with the bath water will harm more than help.

And without prompt congressional action, consumers may soon be surprised to discover that UPS, FedEx and Amazon do not serve nonmetropolitan areas nearly as cost-effectively as their advertising might have you believe. We may be surprised that grandma’s heart medicine will cost $24 to ship instead of the $4 it costs today. You see, the Postal Service has efficiencies over its competitors for package delivery because it can add parcels to the daily mail rather than paying for each and every trip down each and every road — especially in the heartland. We may be stunned at what it really costs to send a “get well” package when the mailman isn’t there to deliver it.

As the old motto goes, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night …” keeps the postman away — but a financial death-spiral at the U.S. Postal Service just might.

Horace Cooper is a senior fellow with the Market Institute. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

Copyright 2020 Tribune Content Agency.

(8) comments

jagman

The USPS is a complex issue. First, the U.S. Constitution authorizes the establishment and operation of a post office as stated in the article. So, right away, we have a constitutionally valid reason for the federal government to be involved.

The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 partially privatized the organization. Sounded good at the time but it turned out not to be. It is difficult to have a semi-private organization playing by rules of government inefficiency.

It needs to exist but it must either be completely private or completely public.

As far as Pelosi's stunt to bury funding for USPS in a CV-19 bill, it's just that. A stunt.

If she wants to propose more money, as is probably needed, she should put forth a clean bill with just that in it.

francesca_easa

The public can do their part by paying by check and sending letters and cards by mail. Builders who want to cram more homes in communities should pay fees to the postal service for increased postal services. Every time I go to the Frederick post office, it is packed. They are certainly appreciated here.

TomWheatley

Didn't the Postal Service undergo some level of privatization some years ago? In short, are they tied to the Government GS rates or do they have salaries they set themselves?

Greg F

No, but the GOP made them pre-fund retirement that was not done before taking out cash flow. No other government agency does this. Also rate increases are limited and they cannot have ancillary services or goods that could be money makers or even a vending machine to get any added funding.

Hollowed Ground

Republicans have always hated the USPS because it is unionized, and because it has offered the lesser educated, minority and non-minority, a gateway to the middle class. Qualifying is difficult and the work is physically demanding. But it provides pay and benefits superior to many private employers drawing from the same labor pool. In many small rural communities the Post Office is all there is. This in turn has allowed countless millions to go to college who other wise would not have been able to. It provides tremendous national social benefit. This drives Republicans crazy. Union, minority, good pay, college. The four things they hate the most. It is therefore no wonder why Republicans attack it like they attack safe abortion, medicare, medicaid, SNAP, social security and now, medical research. They force voodoo economics upon the USPS unlike any other government department. Anything that benefits people they attack.

gb4baseball

[thumbup]

tonyc51

We need the postal service, no doubt. But it is so poorly managed (and constantly interfered with by congress) that I doubt if it can ever be made to function in a manner that will allow it to function in the era of competitive commercial delivery services.

louis

Your comment makes the most sense of those so far. Postal service should be and without Congress' interference can be self supporting. The National Park Service can also be self supporting. But again the problem is Congress and it's desire for control and power which we see more and more. The USPS has made recommendations (higher rates, limited days, etc) which Congress rejects. Let the USPS sink or swim on its own.

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