Opinions

Alaska would lose big if Congress lets the Postal Service go bankrupt

Alaska would be one of the hardest-hit states if Congress fails to come through with the financial relief the U.S. Postal Service needs to survive the pandemic.

Across the United States, postal workers have managed a huge spike in demand for home deliveries of food, medicine and other essentials. But mail revenue has dropped considerably and some costs have increased due to the economic crisis.

Postal officials now estimate they will run out of cash between March and October 2021 unless they receive direct aid.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Steve Daines of Montana recently introduced a bipartisan bill to provide up to $25 billion to cover crisis-related losses and ensures access to a line of credit. The House approved similar postal relief in May as part of a broad stimulus bill.

While Alaska’s senators signed a letter in support of such assistance in May, they have not yet co-sponsored this new bill. They should do so right away, since there is only a narrow window to get postal relief into the stimulus package Congress will vote on before their August break.

The stakes for Alaska are extremely high. We all know that private corporations have no interest in taking on money-losing deliveries to far-flung tribal communities and mountain villages. The public Postal Service, on the other hand, has a mandate to provide universal service, delivering mail and packages at reasonable, uniform rates to all American addresses, no matter how remote. USPS uses money from more lucrative services to keep costs down on more deliveries to sparsely populated areas of our state.

Maintaining these deliveries is particularly important since nearly 40% of Alaskans lack access to broadband service, the largest share of any state. People without this access rely more heavily on the Postal Service to pay their bills and send greeting cards to their friends and family.

Alaska’s population also has the highest in the nation percentage of veterans (11.9%). The Postal Service is a leading employer of former military service members (97,000 nationwide), and even before the pandemic, 80% of vets were already receiving their prescriptions via the mail.

At a time of high unemployment, many decent jobs are also on the line. According to a report by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies, USPS directly employs 1,478 Alaskans — more than the number of Alaskans employed in many other major job categories, such as middle school teachers (1,370), correctional officers (1,120), home health aides (990), fast-food cooks (880), and tour and travel guides (870).

As a state that allows “no excuse” absentee voting, Alaskans already rely heavily on the Postal Service to ensure they can exercise this basic democratic right. In 2016, more than 22% of voting in the state was by mail. Under the public health crisis, vote by mail will be even more essential. And yet only our public Postal Service has the capacity to carry out this responsibility.

Ordinary Americans of every political stripe, including 90% of Republicans and 96% of Democrats, support a postal relief package. Now it’s time for our leaders in Congress to listen to their constituents and pass financial aid that will keep the Postal Service in business through the crisis and beyond.

James M. Patarini serves as president of the Alaska Postal Workers Union. He lives in Eagle River.

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