Friday, August 14, 2020

Writer, a longtime rural resident, says President Trump's attack on the Postal Service is a threat to rural America

President Trump's efforts to dismantle and further privatize the U.S. Postal Service are a threat to rural America, longtime rural resident Bill McKibben writes for The New Yorker.

Bill McKibben
"In 2012, when the Postal Service planned on closing 3,830 branches, an analysis by Reuters showed that 80 percent of those branches were in rural areas where the poverty rate topped the national average," McKibben writes. "You know who delivers the Amazon package the final mile to rural Americans? The USPS. You know how people get medicine, when the pharmacy is an hour’s drive away? In their mailbox. You know why many people can’t pay their bills electronically? Because too much of rural America has impossibly slow internet, or none at all."

The post office was once a federally funded cabinet-level department, but in 1971 Congress and President Nixon made it a self-funding independent agency that was meant to run like a business (partly as a swipe against its labor unions). However, the Postal Service has been hobbled by congressional constraints, such as a 2006 requirement to prefund employee pensions. By the end of 2019, nearly $120 billion of its $160.9 billion in debt came from that.

If GOP efforts to privatize the Postal Service succeed, it will "suck out what life remains from too many of the rural communities that many of those Republicans theoretically represent," McKibben writes.

Jane Kleeb, chair of Nebraska's Democratic Party, told McKibben that the mail "is a universal service that literally levels the playing field for all Americans. It is how we order goods, send gifts to our family, and keep small businesses alive. In the era of the coronavirus, mail is now our lifeline to have our voices heard for our ballots in the election. In fact, in eleven counties in our state, they have only mail-in ballots, because of how massive the county is land-wise."

A decade ago in McKibben's own small town, USPS tried to close the post office. That would have forced residents to make a 12-mile round trip to another town to pick up mail, but they came together and beat the idea. McKibben writes, "Robert Frost once lived in our town, and he maintained that good fences made good neighbors. But he was wrong: it’s the post office that does the trick."

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