U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO) introduced a bill Tuesday that would provide $25 billion to a United States Postal Service (USPS) that was struggling financially even before the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States.
The proposed law, called the Protect Our Post Offices Act, was a response by Neguse to concerns heard by his office from his district (spanning from Boulder to Fort Collins to parts of Summit County) about the delivery of medications and other important supplies.
The USPS was projecting to run out of operating funds by 2021, but now, with fewer people sending mail, the service is estimating that it could be forced to cease operations by June.
Because of COVID-19, people are spending less on postage and packages — the primary source of income for the USPS. However, many people still rely on the USPS for consistent mail delivery.
“As this public health emergency worsens, our frontline postal workers remain vulnerable to the coronavirus and our post offices require immediate support to maintain on-time and consistent deliveries for customers who are quarantining or vulnerable and rely on mail for essential supplies and food,” Neguse said in a statement released Tuesday.
In addition to food and medical supplies, the USPS could play a critical role in both local and national elections, which may need to be conducted via mail-in ballots if the pandemic continues into the summer and fall.
The USPS provided a statement to the Colorado Times Recorder emphasizing the importance of mail delivery.
“The Postal Service continues to provide an essential public service in the midst of this pandemic,” the USPS statement reads. “As recently as January of this year, the National Security Council identified the delivery of postal services as a ‘critical government service’ necessary during times of crisis, and the Department of Homeland Security earlier this month identified ‘postal and shipping workers’ as essential to critical infrastructure.”
Michael Ruiz is a mail handler for USPS in Colorado and sits on the executive board for Colorado’s division of the National Postal Mail Handler Union (NPMHU). Ruiz understands just how essential postal workers are every time he goes to work.
“It’s important to bring people their medicine,” Ruiz said. “Some people still rely on the mail for communication. Along those lines, everyone quarantined in their homes might need information about what’s going on and things of that nature. It’s very important to have that.”
Neguse’s legislation aims to not only keep the USPS afloat but also provide funding to keep workers and customers safe, a real concern when COVID-19 can spread so easily.
The shortage of protective masks and sanitation supplies affecting the healthcare industry is also plaguing the USPS, which was criticized this week for not providing mail carriers and handlers with a safe working environment amid the pandemic.
A report by ProPublica cited a Denver postal worker who felt pressured to keep working even though they were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
After that report was published, the USPS said it has instituted a slate of workplace policies including eliminating the need for customers to sign for packages, increasing how often cleaning occurs, and changing their sick policy to include time off for dependent care (like caring for children whose schools are closed).
The USPS has 10,000 employees in Colorado, and while the media hasn’t reported any positive COVID-19 cases among postal workers in the state, there have been 111 cases nationwide. A postal worker in New York died from the virus last week.
Ruiz feels confident that if a Colorado postal employee tests positive, the service would be able to isolate those who had contact with them and clean any surfaces they might have touched. Ruiz says that employees now have access to hand sanitizer and masks.
“Management has been doing talks for the employees most mornings to keep us informed, and they are allowing employees to take liberal leave if they are feeling sick,” Ruiz said.
The USPS is also confident in its ability to quell the spread of COVID-19 among its customer base. While there is a published study stating that the virus can survive on cardboard for 24 hours, the USPS points to the CDC and World Health Organization who have both indicated that the virus cannot be spread through the mail.
Neguse hopes that the Protect Our Post Offices Act will give the USPS the resources it needs to keep delivering the mail in a safe, healthy manner.
“This legislation would ensure needed support for the postal service, our frontline postal workers, and ensure all Americans can continue to take advantage of mail services while they remain in their homes,” Neguse said in his statement, “This will help shore up postal operations throughout the 2nd District from Boulder to Evergreen to Bailey to Fort Collins.”
The $2 trillion coronavirus bill signed and passed March 27 did not contain emergency funding for the postal service. Instead, it included $10 billion in a raised borrowing ceiling for the service, a measure that was not enough in the eyes of the USPS.
In its statement to the Colorado Times Recorder, the USPS said that without emergency funding it would have “insufficient liquidity to continue operations.”
The initial version of the coronavirus stimulus package passed by the U.S. House of Representatives included $25 billion in emergency funding for the USPS on top of the increased debt ceiling, but the Senate cut the funding. Neguse hopes that his bill will be included in the fourth coronavirus stimulus package to be negotiated once Congress is back in session.
The USPS said it could not comment on Neguse’s bill because the legislation is pending.