In rural America we understand the importance of postal mail to connecting our republic.
Sites across Nebraska’s Third District on the Pony Express Historic Trail commemorate the value of this service back to our earliest days as a territory and state. However, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has been in the news more than usual lately for two reasons – its financial troubles and the increase in mail-in voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our founders recognized the importance of postal mail to uniting our country by including the establishment of post offices and postal roads in our constitution. The post office is vital to commerce across America regardless of population and universal mail service keeps rural households connected.
The USPS has been facing financial challenges for some time. In 2019, USPS reported net losses for the 13th year in a row – long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Reform is necessary to address these shortfalls and ensure USPS can meet continued changes in mail demand from flat mailers to package delivery. Because the loss of universal service would be so detrimental to Nebraska, I have worked to include language in previous postal reform proposals which would limit rural closures and ensure the postal service continued to offer in-person services to communities where cuts were unavoidable.
One financial strain on the agency has been the requirement to prefund retiree health and pension benefits. Although USPS would still be in the red without this mandate, it has intensified its financial difficulties. Earlier this year, the House even voted to repeal this burdensome requirement.
Last Saturday, the House met to consider legislation brought forward by Speaker Pelosi which would have provided $25 billion in funding to the postal service while prohibiting the Postmaster General from making any changes to the current operations of USPS. I voted against this bill because USPS has still not accessed a $10 billion credit line made available earlier this year as part of the CARES Act, and because the prohibition on changes was so restrictive it would have prevented operational adjustments even in the face of events such as natural disasters. I appreciate Postmaster General DeJoy’s recognition for the need for reforms and his willingness to be flexible as we navigate elections during a time where social distancing is encouraged. This reality makes the recent politicization of USPS by Speaker Pelosi even more frustrating for rural America.
While the USPS needs reform, I also agree we must ensure it is capable of handling the influx of mail expected as record numbers of Americans vote by mail this November. The integrity of our elections is paramount. Americans who feel unsafe going to the polls in November should have other options, but mailing millions of ballots to Americans who did not request them is an invitation for abuse. Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen provided an ideal model for allowing vote-by-mail when he chose to send ballot request documents – not ballots – to every registered Nebraskan. By doing so, he ensured only those who wanted and expected ballots would receive them while limiting the threat of lost or stolen ballots changing the outcome of our elections. In contrast, Speaker Pelosi’s HEROES Act would require states to mail ballots directly to every voter in a national emergency like COVID-19. Americans, regardless of their views, will quickly lose faith in our system when they see images of hundreds of blank ballots stacked up in an apartment building mail room somewhere, waiting to be lost, stolen, or go uncounted.
Any postal reform considered by Congress must guarantee continued and long-term access to mail delivery for rural areas like Nebraska. We should focus on USPS’ challenges such as these rather than focusing on trying to undermine the President using USPS as a weapon. I will continue working on responsible solutions with rural America in mind and ensure the Postal Service upholds its original mission to serve all Americans.
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