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Legislative Updates

Stimulus Package Three Update: Postal Service Relief

The two competing stimulus bills introduced and debated over the past week in Washington – the House Democratic-drafted Take Responsibility for Workers and Family Act (H.R.6379) and the Senate Republican-drafted “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” or CARES Act (S. 3548). The and– could not have been more different. The two measures could not have been more different when it comes to aiding the Postal Service.

The House bill introduced by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on March 23 provided broad and aggressive relief to the Postal Service, like that offered other major industries facing significant disruptions by the pandemic.  It called for: the elimination of the agency’s current $11 billion debt to the Treasury; resetting the Postal Service’s borrowing authority to $15 billion with an elimination of the current $3 billion limit on new debt; the provision of a one-time appropriation of $25 billion to be available for use between now and September 2022; and a provision to prioritize the delivery of medical items and to make other operation adjustments in response to the Coronavirus crisis.

In a postal-related matter, the House bill called for $4 billion in funding to make in-person voting safe and to expand vote by mail for this year’s remaining primaries and for the November 2020 general election. The election security measure also included a national requirement for both 15 days of early voting and the right vote by mail for every American voter.

The initial Senate bill offered no relief to the Postal Service whatsoever, despite compelling information provided by the Postal Service to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) and its chairman, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), showing that the sudden shutdown of major parts of the U.S. economy was dramatically reducing mail volume and revenue for the Postal Service. 

NALC and its allies in the mailing industry (unions and mailers alike) also weighed in.  In order to both protect the public health (which relies on USPS to deliver prescriptions) and to stabilize the huge mailing industry (which relies on USPS to exist), we urged, among other things, that Congress provide direct financial assistance to the Postal Service like that being offered to airlines and hotel chains.  We also urged the Committee to include the repeal of the retiree health prefunding mandate adopted by the House of Representatives in February (H.R. 2382) and to forgive the USPS’s outstanding debt, which is largely due to the mandate.  Although the Postal Service has not received taxpayer appropriations (other than tiny ones for military voting and free mail for the blind) since the early 1980s, the present crisis certainly warrants such appropriations now.

Starting over the weekend and running through Tuesday, Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, coordinating with NALC and other stakeholders, wrangled with the administration’s lead negotiator, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, over the major elements of the $2.2 trillion legislative package. Schumer pushed for major relief for the Postal Service. The Ranking Member of HSGAC, Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), also worked to persuade Sen. Johnson that the USPS needed relief.

To his credit, Chairman Johnson eventually conceded that direct aid was warranted and urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to include a $13 billion appropriation to the Postal Service in the stimulus legislation.  Shockingly, the administration’s negotiating team led by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin flatly rejected this urgent relief. As NALC President Fred Rolando remarked: “Mnuchin and others have put on ideological blinders, seeing such relief as an unwarranted ‘bailout.’ By neglecting the Postal Service, this short-sighted and misguided view risks making the public health crisis worse and doing serious long-term damage to our economy and America’s only universal communications and delivery network.”

In the end, following pressure from Leader Schumer, Mnuchin and the Administration agreed to provide a $10 billion special line of credit to help USPS deal with the Covid-19 crisis. This will raise the Postal Service’s liquidity for now, but also its indebtedness. This “relief” is not nearly enough. As President Rolando noted: “Congress will have no choice but to revisit relief of the Postal Service soon. The Covid-19 crisis is both a public health crisis and an economic crisis – and the U.S. Postal Service is a vitally important tool for combatting these twin calamities.” 

The Senate adopted the third stimulus bill on March 25th and the House is to take it up on Friday (March 26th), likely via a unanimous consent motion since members are not physically in Washington.

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