Mail-in ballots thrust Postal Service into presidential race
WASHINGTON (AP) - The famous US Postal Service motto - "Neither snow, rain, heat or darkness of the night remain these couriers" - is being tested like never before by challenges that go far beyond the weather.
The corona virus has destroyed its finances. The Trump administration can combine bailouts with big threads.
The agency's responsibilities are increasing. A dramatic shift in many countries towards postal voting is designed to protect voters from the spread of the virus at polling stations. But it also does more work for post offices and contributes to delays in determining the election winners.
Election results in Kentucky and New York were delayed this week as both states were overwhelmed by a huge increase in postal voting.
"What we don't need is more chaos in chaos," said Wendy Fields, executive director of The Democracy Initiative.
President Donald Trump rejects an expansion of the postal vote and claims that this will trigger fraud, although there is no evidence. Trump and many of his government's leading voices are often absent-minded.
The president also called the postal service a "joke" and said that the shipping costs for packages for strong users like Amazon should be at least four times higher. But shipping packages are a major sales driver, and critics say Trump is only trying to punish Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in retaliation for the unflattering Washington Post reporting that the billionaire owns.
Trump has confirmed that major political calculations are in the works, and tweets that expanding postal voting "will end our major Republican party." His democratic rival Joe Biden has suggested that Trump's opposition to postal voting and criticism of the postal service could help the incumbent "steal" the election.
Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, which represents more than 200,000 workers, said the government is "disgracefully attempting to use the crisis to implement a" privatization agenda "that would ultimately" dissolve and sell the postal service. "
Vermont's Democratic Secretary of State, Jim Condos, said: "Our democracy depends on a reliable post office."
"The middle election year is not the time to see changes in the reliability of the postal service, especially in a year when our country is in a pandemic and health crisis that will dramatically increase the need for postal voting," he said .
The postal service is older than the United States. It was launched by the Second Continental Congress in July 1775, and Benjamin Franklin was the first postmaster general.
In contrast to its private competitors, the postal service cannot refuse to make expensive deliveries to particularly difficult-to-reach addresses. Much of the budgetary problems, however, result from a 2006 law requiring the agency to fully fund retirement health care for the next 75 years.
It usually works without taxpayers' money. However, during the pandemic, it lost $ 4.5 billion in the second quarter of 2020. Congress approved a $ 10 billion credit facility for the agency in March as part of an economic rescue package. Since then, however, the postal service and the finance department have discussed the requirements for extending these loans.
Neither side will publicly say what is being negotiated, but Trump has made his feelings clear. A Ministry of Finance task force for 2018 also recommended the postal service to increase flat rates and lower labor costs. A second corona virus support package, approved by the democratically controlled house in May, includes $ 25 billion in direct aid to the postal service, but the GOP-majority Senate has not approved its own version.
More than 3,420 of the over 630,000 postal workers tested positive for COVID-19, and some died. While parcel deliveries increased when the Americans stayed at home, mail volumes fell - by 30%, according to the American Postal Workers Union.
In April, then General Post Office Manager Megan Brennan said the agency could run out of money by September 30. Louis DeJoy, a North Carolina businessman and GOP fundraiser who donated Trump, recently succeeded Brennan.
Postal service spokesman David Partenheimer said recent trends "suggest that our financial performance for 2020 will be better than predicted in our early scenarios," although he said much remains uncertain.
"Our current financial situation will not affect our ability to deliver elections and political mail this year," said Partenheimer.
However, Condos, who was president of the National Association of State Secretaries from July 2018 to July 2019, fears that keeping such a promise could force the postal service to restrict routine services, where voting materials may take precedence over regular mail. The pressure is also great because postal ballot papers for foreign military personnel are sent 45 days before election day - or September 18, which is less than three months away.
"We really are not doing this whole idea, which we have to decide by November," said Condos.
The postal service is consistently the most popular federal agency in the country. Pew Research Center polls in March showed 91% of Americans had a positive opinion. Congressional Democrats call for "save the mail," and Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., And Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Among others, propose to increase the profits of the postal service by expanding it into banking services for decades up to provided the 1960s.
Rural Republicans such as Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, have also called for the agency's defense. Nevertheless, some conservatives say that tying partisan funding to the jitter of election day is a gimmick.
"It only raises doubts about the legitimacy of the outcome," said Republican Tom Ridge, a former Pennsylvania governor who heads VoteSafe, a non-partisan group that works with state and local officials to expand postal voting options and to strengthen. "It is very sad, it is very disappointing, it is very unsettling."
Associate press clerk Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that Condos is a former President of the National Association of Secretaries of State, not the current one, and that Alaska Rep. Young's first name is Don, not Dan.
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