January 16, 2021 •
COVID-19 Teaches the Benefit of the USPS — and its Limitations

Image of a residential mailbox with flag up

Looking back at the accomplishments of the USPS in 2020 — and what awaits in ‘21

By George White, president, and Rafe Morrissey, vice president of public affairs for Greeting Card Association.

While the full impact of COVID-19 remains to be seen, it’s taught us one thing for certain: Americans love the United States Postal Service (USPS). For years, the USPS has been the top-rated government agency, but the pandemic emphasized how important it truly is in so many ways.

George White, president GCA
George White, president Greeting Card Association

In coronavirus’ early stages, the Postal Service was instrumental in distributing essential information on the disease, and became the only available lifeline for the economy as lockdowns spread throughout the country. Hurricane and tornado survivors know firsthand that the USPS is second only to FEMA facilitating recovery. But with COVID-19 we learned the value of the only national network capable of reaching every address, everywhere in the country at least six days a week.

This value became even more evident later, when COVID-19 imperiled the national presidential election and by extension, our democracy itself. The USPS rose to the challenge and ensured that every American who needed to safely vote could do so by mail, and delivered a historic number of ballots. When that capability came into question during the summer, the huge outcry made it clear once again how important the USPS is to the people — and of course, the post-election audits are showing that USPS delivered 135 million ballots, safely, accurately and on time.

Rafe Morrissey, vice president of public affairs, Greeting Card Association
Rafe Morrissey, vice president of public affairs, Greeting Card Association

That sense of value has also been born out in the greeting card industry. For years the Postal Service has delivered more than half of all cards sold to their intended recipients. Always valued, those cards became even more treasured as Americans sought ways to bridge social distancing in meaningful ways. Because of that power, industry analysts are anticipating significant increases in the volume of card-sending for the holidays. That will be a cause for joy for senders, recipients, and the industry, but huge challenges remain.

Despite all the USPS has done to provide essential services, deliver medications, support a free and fair election and provide a medium for friends and family to connect through card sending, Congress has still not passed needed legislation to stabilize the USPS’ long term finances. The USPS has estimated it could lose between $7-17 billion due to COVID-19. Various proposals have emerged to provide relief funding in that range, but Congress and the administration have not been able to agree on a path. Continued uncertainty over recounts and control of the Senate makes prospects for enactment unclear, but an even larger problem exists.

For years, Congress has failed to address comprehensive postal reform that is needed to put the USPS on a sustainable financial path and correct flaws in earlier legislation. A framework crafted by a collaboration of stakeholders, including the Greeting Card Association (GCA), other mailers, postal unions, and the previous Postmaster General, Megan Brennan, has languished due to other perceived priorities and a series of retirements including even a death among the key decision-makers responsible for the issue.

While the USPS has been able to stagger along by accumulating massive amounts of debt, reducing processing power, and raising rates, the day of reckoning will soon be at hand. The USPS estimates that due to COVID-19 it could run out of money to deliver by the end of next year. Even worse, its regulator is poised to greenlight significantly higher postage rates. This is a critical threat to the greeting card industry because while a rebound in card volume is predicted for this holiday season, the nickel increase in the price of a Forever Stamp in 2019 reversed a four-year trend in the growth of holiday cards that our cooperative marketing efforts had achieved. Without comprehensive reform legislation, higher rates are the only alternative but would ultimately prove self-defeating by driving away mail volume. The new Congress must act quickly.

When asked what had been achieved as he left the Constitutional Convention in 1787, founding-father — and our nation’s first Postmaster General — Benjamin Franklin, responded, “a Republic…, if you can keep it.” That same proposition applies to the 117th Congress and the USPS. Towards that end, the GCA is working every day to make sure Congress acts to ensure that the Postal Service can continue to provide dependable, universal service, six days a week.

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