The October 25, 1918 edition of the Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, a local Connecticut newspaper, reads like it was written during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The frontpage reports a decline in cases of the Spanish Flu. “DEMAND FOR COFFINS GREATER THAN SUPPLY,” reads another headline. There’s even an advertisement peddling a mysterious supplement to ward off influenza.
But sticking out like a sore thumb is an article urging readers to use a U.S. Postal Service program delivering farm-fresh food. President Woodrow Wilson’s “Farm-to-Table” initiative had been launched in 1914 to connect rural farmers with city dwellers. Four years later, as a war-time food shortage swept the nation, postal carriers were delivering meat, produce, and other goods to 41 cities, from Baltimore to San Francisco.
As the Trump administration downplays the need for greater coronavirus testing, refuses to use federal power to ramp up production of masks, and even tries to cut Social Security and Medicare, it’s hard to imagine such an ambitious federal program happening today.
In fact, Trump is kicking the 245-year-old Postal Service while it’s down. He blocked a bipartisan plan to provide $13 billion to the agency as it struggles through the pandemic. He appointed a businessman with no postal experience to be the new postmaster general. “The Postal Service is a joke,” he said, at an April bill signing. (Sign this petition to help #SaveThePostOffice.)
The postal service is not a joke. It’s a pillar of American life.
Its 600,000 postal employees directly support a $1.6 trillion mailing industry that employs nearly 7 million other workers. It employs black workers at double the rate of the overall workforce. In 2019 alone, it delivered 1.2 billionprescriptions, including almost 100 percent of those ordered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
No wonder the postal service is America’s favorite federal agency.
It’s even helping us survive the pandemic. Right now, across the country, letter carriers are delivering much-needed items at low cost. They’re delivering masks—and even chipping in to pay the postage. They’re delivering stimulus checks, which can be tracked online using a free app. In the coming elections, they’ll be delivering mail-in ballots, even without a stamp. And if and when a coronavirus vaccine is developed, if all else fails, they’ll be delivering that too.
Only government action is going to contain the virus and get us back to something approximating “normal.” Private markets work for some things, but not everything. For example, millions of children are being fed right now by public school districts. Some adults are too. Public schools are feeding people not because it’s profitable but simply “because they are hungry,” as Michael Lipsky put it.
Imagine if we had a president who saw the inherent value in public institutions, especially in a time of great need. That might be hard, but it’s easy to imagine what’s at stake if we lose the Postal Service.
I too have lost my livelihood, I’m struggling day by day
Ole Uncle Sam won’t bail me out, while corporate crooks are saved
In times like these it’s fair to say we’ll need new ways to vote
But if the Postal Service dies, my friends, that’s all she wrote.
— Joe Troop, of Che Apalache, in “A Plea to the US Government to Fully Fund the Postal Service”