Rep. Cleaver: Postal Service a lifeline for rural Americans. Don’t let politics kill it

The Kansas City Star | By Emanuel Cleaver | April 27, 2020

As best my three sisters can determine, our maternal grandmother had the same Waxahachie, Texas, post office mailbox for her entire life. She died in 1995 at the age of 95. As long as I am able to maintain my mental dexterity, my sisters and I will be able to testify that P.O. Box 563 belonged to Zora Gardner Alexander. Every weekday, and maybe Saturday also, she would meet Aunt Adlee and other friends at 2 p.m. at the post office. Human beings are lights that long to plug into other lights. That daily assemblage was Big Mama’s posse plugging in.

Waxahachie is a small town about 25 minutes south of downtown Dallas. In terms of size and distance from Kansas City, it resembles many small towns in my congressional district. Therefore, it may be understandable that I view the latest attempt to stamp out the United States Postal Service as wrongheaded and shortsighted.

On Feb. 20, 1792, President George Washington signed legislation that created a national post office. Last week, while respectfully discussing the USPS with a constituent who could not accept the indisputable fact that Congress does not fund the Postal Service, I realized that Congress must do more to get basic information about the government to the American public. The only money Congress gives to the USPS is for the franked mail sent to constituents. Yet, there are those who believe strongly that the Postal Service should be operated by the lowest bidder. I guarantee that if the USPS is privatized, rural America would be traumatized.

There is not an abundance of pharmacies in rural America, nor in our cities’ urban cores. That leaves many older citizens dependent on the delivery of lifesaving medicines from our postal carriers. The USPS, of course, is not for profit. In the year 2000, a postage stamp cost 33 cents. Today, a first-class mail forever stamp costs only 55 cents. What other product’s price has increased by such a small amount?

It is true that the Postal Service is not financially sound, but that is because of a politically-inspired measure passed by Congress in 2006 that mercilessly mandated the service fund its employee pension 75 years in advance. It is important also to note that no federal agency nor private corporation is burdened with such a requirement. Additionally, no for-profit corporation would want to cover every community and rural resident in the country, because that would be a loser for stockholders.

The USPS employs over 650,000 Americans. Our mail is delivered through rain, sleet, snow and coronavirus. One of my great hopes is that our country will survive the COVID-19 pandemic and come out on the other side a much better nation. I hope that we have come to see how important our hospital personnel, sanitation workers, bus drivers, food market checkout clerks and mail carriers are to the functioning of our nation. They are like a four-leaf clover, difficult to locate and lucky to find.

No matter how paltry the issue, sooner or later someone will quote the uncommon utterance of Bugs Bunny: “Of course, you realize this means war.” Therefore, I should not have been surprised when I was recently told by a colleague that the “other side” will fight to the death to eliminate the USPS.

This issue is not partisan. The value of the Postal Service is higher than its price. Price is what you pay while value is what you get. The American public gets far more from the USPS than it pays.

Earlier this month, I led a group of over 120 lawmakers in urging congressional leadership to fund the USPS in the next coronavirus relief package. The Postal Service is by far the most positively-regarded institution connected to the federal government. We must do all that we can to protect this indispensable institution, which is as American as apple pie. If you agree, I urge you to contact your representatives in Congress to demand they protect the U.S. Postal Service