- The U.S. Postal Service is asking lawmakers for $89 billion to help keep it afloat, warning that it could run out of operational funds by the end of September.
- The coronavirus pandemic led to a drastic 30% decline in mail volume last week, with the service estimating a 50% drop by the end of the third quarter.
- Still, postal employees have continued to deliver essentials like prescriptions, mail-in ballots, medical supplies, and more all over the country and Democrats warn that without them, many could lose access to necessary goods.
- Lawmakers have been battling to agree on relief deals, with some believing conservatives and the Trump administration are using the pandemic to force the mail service towards privatization.
Post Office Sees Drastic Mail Decline
The U.S. Postal Service is begging lawmakers for $89 billion to help to keep it from crumbling, saying it could run out of operational funds by the end of September if it doesn’t receive financial assistance.
In a video conference Thursday with members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Postmaster General Megan Brennan told lawmakers that the USPS believes it will see a “$13 billion revenue loss” this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Their projections say the virus could cost the agency another $54 billion over the next decade.
The U.S. Postal Service has faced financial struggles for some time now, but the pandemic has added new strain that quickly escalated problems. Mail volume has drastically declined in recent weeks as businesses all over the world close their doors, pause their services, and cut back on advertisements.
The mail volume had dropped by 5.3% four weeks ago, according to Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat and the chairman of the oversight subcommittee that oversees the USPS. Last week, it saw a 30% decline and the post office estimates that it could see as much as a 50% drop in the third quarter of this year.
Package volume has increased, however, packages only make up less than 30% of total revenue for the agency.
But even with the declining volume of mail, postal workers have remained on the front line of the crisis, delivering essential goods like medical supplies, prescriptions, lab test materials, mail-in ballots, paperwork for unemployment claims, and other crucial items. Like medical professionals, grocery store employees, and countless other essential workers, they too are struggling with low stocks of protective gear as they work to deliver these items amid the pandemic.
Unlike other private mail carriers, the U.S. Postal Service is required to deliver goods all over the country, including in rural areas where profit margins are smaller. Without its services, Democrats warn that vulnerable populations would lose their access to necessary items.
USPS Asks For Help
The Postal Service is asking Congress for the $89 billion to help keep it running.
According to House Democrats, the USPS is asking for $25 billion in federal grants to cover lost revenue from the pandemic, $25 billion in “unrestricted borrowing authority from Treasury,” and another $25 billion to help modernize its aging infrastructure. It is also requesting $14 billion needed to pay off debt related to a retirement benefits program.
“At a time when America needs the Postal Service more than ever, the reason we are so needed is having a devastating effect on our business,” Brennan told The New York Times Thursday. “The sudden drop in mail volumes, our most profitable revenue stream, is steep and may never fully recover.”
Lawmakers Battle Over How to Help
The battle between Republicans and Democrats over funding for the mail system has been fierce and efforts to give the agency money in the $2.2 trillion stimulus package failed.
As far as President Donald Trump’s stance on the issue, he argued that the agency could fix its economic problems by raising prices of packages delivered by big online retailers like Amazon.
“They have to raise the prices to these companies that walk in and drop thousands of packages on the floor of the Post Office and say, ‘Deliver it,’” Trump said at a press briefing this week. “And if they’d raise the prices by actually a lot, then you’d find out that the Post Office could make money or break even. But they don’t do that. And I’m trying to figure out why.”
According to CNN, sources told the network that the Trump administration rejected any direct funding for the USPS when Democrats tried to include $25 billion for the agency during discussions. Instead, the USPS was promised it could apply for $10 billion in loans with the Treasury Department. The problem there is that loans come with strings attached that Democrats say add more burdens to the struggling agency.
Some lawmakers, postal union workers, and others who rely on the agency fear that the Trump administration is using the crisis to try and achieve conservative’s long-running goal of pushing the mail service towards privatization. Many believe that the administration is trying to do this by forcing the service into tough loan terms or into bankruptcy, which would help commercial competitors like UPS and FedEx.
Democrats have been increasingly vocal about assisting the post office in recent days, drawing in support with the hashtag #SaveThePostOffice which was trending Friday.
“As Congress and the Administration take steps to support businesses and industries around the country, it is imperative that they also take action to shore up the finances of the Postal Service, and enable us to continue to fulfill our indispensable role during the pandemic, and to play an effective role in the nation’s economic recovery,” Brennan said in a statement.
“We are at a critical juncture in the life of the Postal Service,” she added. “At a time when America needs the Postal Service more than ever, the reason we are so needed is having a devastating effect on our business.”
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (Fox News)
Coronavirus Cases Surge in the US, Shattering Records
- The United States hit its highest seven day average of coronavirus cases on Sunday, reaching a 68,787 case average, according to Johns Hopkins. This is over 1,000 cases higher than the previous record which was hit in July.
- Also this weekend, over 83,000 cases were reported on Friday and Saturday, marking the two highest single day case counts in the country.
- Some state and local governments are issuing curfews or other restrictions to slow the spread of the virus. Federal health leaders, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb are calling for a mask mandate throughout the country.
Cases in the U.S. Surge
As coronavirus cases surge across the United States, the country hit its highest seven-day average of cases reported since the start of the deadly pandemic.
According to Johns Hopkins, that average hit 68,787 cases on Sunday. The previous high was a 67,293 average at the end of July. This follows a weekend of record-breaking reports. The two highest single day case counts were reached on Friday and Saturday, with over 83,000 new cases reported each day.
As cases spike, it is unlikely that the entire country will face full lockdowns similar to the ones ordered in March, but some local leaders are taking smaller steps to curb the spread. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced new COVID-19 restrictions on Friday that include curfews for certain businesses and safety rules for dining.
“Please be extremely conservative in deciding how much time to spend outside of the home,” Grisham wrote when announcing the new mitigation strategies. “The visit to friends or family can wait – it’s not worth your life, or theirs.”
Some local leaders are taking stronger approaches. In South Dakota, the Ogala Sioux Tribe mandated a seven-day lockdown that started Friday as a result of a spike on their reservation. In El Paso, Texas, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego ordered a 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. curfew throughout the county as hospitalizations trend upwards.
Federal Leaders Call For Mask Mandate
Some believe that in addition to local restrictions, more should be done on a federal level to curb the spread of the virus. Specifically, many think the country should mandate mask-wearing in public.
On Sunday, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal arguing that as winter approaches, a mask mandate could save lives.
“It will be essential to use standard interventions, including limits on crowded settings such as bars and continuing to test and trace contacts,” Gottlieb wrote. “But on the current trajectory these measures won’t be enough to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed in some areas.”
“Masks would help,” he added. “As a practical matter, it’s easier to wear a mask in the winter than the summer. A mandate can be expressly limited to the next two months. The inconvenience would allow the country to preserve health-care capacity and keep more schools and businesses open.”
While President Donald Trump has repeatedly mocked the use of masks in the past, his opponent former Vice President Joe Biden has advocated for a mandate. On Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases echoed his support for a mandate on CNN.
“If everyone agrees that this is something that’s important and they mandated it, and everyone pulls together and says ‘you know we’re going to mandate it, but let’s just do it,’ I think that would be a great idea to have everyone do it uniformly,” he said.
“Though I get the issue of, if you mandate a mask then you’re going to have to enforce it, which will create more of a problem. Well, if people are not wearing masks, then maybe we should be mandating it.”
At Least 130,000 Covid-19 Deaths Were Avoidable, Columbia Study Finds
- A report from the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University estimates that between 130,000 and 210,000 coronavirus deaths were avoidable in the United States.
- While the U.S. accounts for just 4% of the global population, the country makes up 20% of the world’s coronavirus cases and fatalities. The country’s proportional death rate is twice as high as Canada’s and 50 times higher than Japan’s.
- The report largely blamed the Trump administration for ignoring warning signs and scientists, arguing that he has been downplaying the issue, peddling misinformation, and turning the pandemic into a political game.
- It also criticized the Trump administration and other federal leaders for not responding quickly enough in terms of testing and social distancing measures, which could have saved lives if implemented sooner.
Preventable Deaths in the U.S.
The National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University released a report on Wednesday estimating that at somewhere between 130,000 and 210,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States were avoidable.
At the time the report was made, the county had lost 217,000 thousand lives to the virus. As of Thursday morning, the U.S. death toll stands at 222,000. While the U.S. accounts for just 4% of the global population, the country makes up 20% of the world’s coronavirus cases and fatalities.
According to the report, the U.S. has the ninth highest proportional death rate in the world behind Peru, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Spain, and Mexico. The country’s proportional death rate is twice as high as Canada’s and 50 times higher than Japan’s.
The report estimated how many deaths may have been preventable by seeing what the U.S. death toll may have been if it had mirrored the strategies of more proactive and high-income countries.
For example, it says that if the U.S. had followed policies similar to those in Canada, the country may have seen just 85,192 fatalities, making more than 132,500 American deaths “avoidable.” If the States had mirrored Germany the death toll may have been 38,457, leaving 179,260 avoidable losses. If the U.S. modeled after South Korea’s robust intervention, Americans may have seen around 2,799 deaths, leaving nearly 215,000 deaths avoidable.
The researchers do acknowledge that other various factors could contribute to a country having a higher mortality rate, including demographics, distribution of population, health risk factors like obesity, and health care access in general. Still they do not believe this would explain the magnitude of the COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. According to the report, even if the U.S. had implemented an “averaged” response, the virus may have only claimed between 38,000 to 85,000 lives, meaning that at least 130,000 COVID-19 deaths might have been avoidable.
Failures of the Trump Administration
Many, including the researchers behind this report, largely blamed state and federal governments as well as President Donald Trump’s Administration for the catastrophic death toll in the nation. Criticism has come from leaders all over, including former president Barack Obama. During a speech on Thursday, Obama said that he handed Trump’s White House a “pandemic playbook” that got thrown out the window.
“Other countries are still struggling with the pandemic but they’re not doing as bad as we are because they’ve got a government that’s actually been paying attention,” Obama added. “And that means lives lost. And that means an economy that doesn’t work. And just yesterday, when asked if he’d do anything differently, Trump said, ‘Not much.’ Really? Not much? Nothing you can think of that could have helped some people keep their loved ones alive?”
Because the U.S. has been repeatedly condemned for its reckless mishandling of the virus, the idea that thousands of deaths could have been prevented is not surprising. Still, seeing the staggering numbers and lives that did not need to be taken is a sobering reminder of the tragedy the country is currently facing. The report said this tragedy falls on Trump’s hands and specifically criticized the president for ignoring science and instead spreading misinformation and turning the pandemic into a political game.
“Many nations facing the pandemic crisis have put politics aside and orchestrated a response led by public health experts and global coordination,” the report stated.
“Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has shown hostility to much of the critical guidance and recommendations put forth by its own health agencies, with the President at times misleading the public on the scope of the threat, attempting to ‘downplay’ the extent of the crisis, and advocating for unproven therapeutical or unsafe treatments.”
A Delayed Response From the U.S.
Among the many oversights, the report claimed the administration was responsible for was a lack of testing. From the start of the pandemic, the U.S. was far behind on testing efforts, which are essential in fighting a pandemic. Both the U.S. and South Korea had their first confirmed cases on the same day. South Korea began rapid widespread testing and had conducted 250,000 by March 16. At this time in the United States, Trump was still peddling the idea that the virus was like a flu and might fade away.
The report also noted that a lack of mask mandates and delayed responses in other areas like social distancing likely contributed to the spread of the coronavirus. If major cities in the country had introduced social distancing measures just one or two weeks earlier, it is estimated that 62% of cases and 55% of deaths could have been avoided.
Deaths and case counts are not the only things that could have been avoided. The report noted that in New York State alone 325,000 children have been pushed to poverty because of the pandemic and 4,200 children have lost a parent to COVID-19. If policies had been implemented earlier, there could be at least 1.5 million less people grieving across the country right now.
“The U.S. should have – and could have – done better to protect the nation, and particularly its most vulnerable populations, from a threat that was identified and recognized early in 2020,” the report said in its conclusion.
“The weight of this enormous failure ultimately falls to the leadership at the White House – and among a number of state governments – which consistently undercut the efforts of top officials at the CDC and HHS…a pandemic is not a time for a decentralized and combative national response.”
Purdue Pharma Agrees To Plead Guilty To 3 Opioid-Related Charges in $8B Settlement, But Don’t Expect Them To Pay the Full Amount
- As part of a more than $8 billion settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Purdue Pharma will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and two counts of violating anti-kickback, or bribery, laws.
- Because Purdue filed for bankruptcy last year, that full figure likely won’t be collected by the government.
- Under the settlement, which will need approval in bankruptcy court, Purdue would become a public benefit corporation that is controlled by the government, with revenue from opioid sales being used to fund treatment options and programs.
- A number of state attorneys generals and Democratic lawmakers have said the settlement does not hold Purdue or its owners fully accountable and could derail thousands of other cases against the company.
- They have also argued that the government should “avoid having special ties to an opioid company… that caused a national crisis.”
Purdue to Plead Guilty to 3 Criminal Charges
The Justice Department announced Wednesday that Purdue Pharma has agreed to plead guilty to three criminal charges related to fueling the country’s opioid epidemic.
Notably, those guilty pleas come as part of a massive settlement worth more than $8 billion, though Purdue will likely only pay a fraction of that amount to the government.
Purdue is the manufacturer of oxycontin, which is a powerful and addictive painkiller that’s believed to have driven the opioid crisis. Since 2000, opioid addiction and overdoses have been linked to more than 470,000 deaths.
As part of the settlement, Purdue will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. There, it will admit that it lied to the Drug Enforcement Administration by claiming that it had maintained an effective program to avoid opioid misuse. It will also admit to reporting misleading information to the DEA in order to increase its manufacturing quotas.
While Purdue originally told the DEA that it had “robust controls” to avoid opioid misuse, according to the Justice Department, it had “disregard[ed] red flags their own systems were sending up.”
Along with that guilty plea, Purdue will also plead guilty to two anti-kickback, or bribery, related charges. In one charge, it will admit to violating federal law by paying doctors to write more opioid prescriptions. In the other, it will admit to using electronic health records software to increase opioid prescriptions.
According to a copy of the plea deal obtained by the Associated Press, Purdue “knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed with others to aid and abet” the distribution of opioids from doctors “without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice.”
The $8 billion in settlements will be split several different ways.
In one deal, the Sackler family — which owns Purdue — will pay $225 million to resolve civil fines.
As part of the main deal, another $225 million will go directly to the federal government in a larger $2 billion criminal forfeiture; however, the government is actually expected to forego the rest of that figure.
In addition to that, $2.8 billion will go to resolving Purdue’s civil liability. Another $3.54 billion will go to criminal fines, but because Purdue filed bankruptcy last year, these figures also likely won’t be fully collected — largely because the government will now have to compete with other claims against Purdue in bankruptcy court.”
Purdue Will Become a “Public Benefit Company”
Since Purdue is in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings, a bankruptcy court will also need to approve the settlement.
“The agreed resolution, if approved by the courts, will require that the company be dissolved and no longer exist in its present form,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said.
However, that doesn’t mean that Purdue’s fully gone or that it will even stop making oxycontin. In fact, as part of this settlement, the Sacklers would relinquish ownership of Purdue, and it would then transform into what’s known as a public benefit company.
Essentially, that means it would be run by the government. Under that setup, money from limited oxycontin sales, as well as from sales of several overdose-reversing medications, would be pumped back into treatment initiatives and other drug programs aimed at combating the opioid crisis.
For its part, the Justice Department has endorsed this model.
Should Purdue Be Punished More?
There has been strong opposition to this deal, mainly from state attorneys general and Democratic members of Congress who say it doesn’t go far enough.
Those critics argue that the settlements don’t hold Purdue or the Sackler family fully accountable, especially the Sacklers since — unlike Purdue — they didn’t have to admit any wrongdoing.
“[W]hile our country continues to recover from the pain and destruction left by the Sacklers’ greed,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said, “this family has attempted to evade responsibility and lowball the millions of victims of the opioid crisis. Today’s deal doesn’t account for the hundreds of thousands of deaths or millions of addictions caused by Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family.”
“If the only practical consequence of your Department’s investigation is that a handful of billionaires are made slightly less rich, we fear that the American people will lose faith in the ability of the Department to provide accountability and equal justice under the law,” A coalition of 38 Democratic members of Congress said in a statement to Attorney General Bill Barr last week.
While this settlement doesn’t include any convictions against the Sacklers specifically, as the Justice Department noted, it also doesn’t release them from criminal liability and a separate criminal investigation is ongoing.
Still, last week, 25 state attorneys general asked Barr not to make a deal that includes converting Purdue into a public benefit company, urging the Justice Department to “avoid having special ties to an opioid company, conflicts of interest, or mixed motives in an industry that caused a national crisis.”
Part of their concern is that the government would essentially run this new company while also holding the original one accountable. Those attorneys general instead argued that Purdue should be run privately but with government oversight.