- The United States Postal Service fears it could run out of money by September if it does not receive federal aid. It has seen a 30% decline in mail volume over the last week and anticipates $13 billion in losses this year.
- While Democrats have tried to add funding to coronavirus bills for them, Trump has said he would not sign legislation that includes USPS funding.
- Trump has a contentious history with the USPS. Some of these tensions stem from his dislike for Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Trump believes that USPS loses money delivering Amazon packages and should charge more.
- Republicans also are reluctant to give aid because they want to privatize USPS, which is the most favorable government agency amongst Americans.
USPS Requests Emergency Funding
As the United States Postal Service’s plea for money has been largely ignored or outright refused by Republicans, the disputed future of the agency has taken center stage.
After reporting a 30% decline in mail volume in the last week, USPS is asking lawmakers for $89 billion, according to the New York Times. Without financial help, it could run out of money by the end of September. The agency is predicting a $13 billion revenue loss this year.
While Democrats have worked to include funding for USPS in coronavirus relief and stimulus packages, there has been little interest from Republicans in including these measures. President Donald Trump has been equally closed off to it.
“We told them very clearly that the president was not going to sign the bill if [money for the Postal Service] was in it,” a Trump administration official told the Washington Post. “I don’t know if we used the v-bomb, but the president was not going to sign it, and we told them that.”
This has left the USPS with the option of taking out a $10 billion loan from the Treasury Department, which would not carry them as far and could cause longer-term problems for them.
Trump Vs. USPS. Vs. Amazon
Trump’s cold shoulder to USPS is nothing new. The president has long been vocal about his frustrations, many of which stem from its relationship with Amazon. Trump is not a fan of Amazon or its leader, Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post. He has documented this over the years on Twitter, calling USPS Amazon’s “delivery boy,” and saying USPS makes Amazon “richer” and themselves “dumber and poorer.”
Because of this, Trump wants USPS to charge Amazon more so it can churn a bigger profit off of the online shopping giant. This idea, however, has faced no shortage of criticism.
“Raising rates too much would lead private-sector competitors to develop their own cheaper methods to deliver packages,” Lori Rectanus, the director of physical infrastructure at the Government Accountability Office told the Post.
According to a New York Magazine piece from the end of 2019 said that raising prices with Amazon may not even benefit USPS. Trump has often stated that USPS loses $1.50 for every Amazon package it delivers, but writer Josh Barro claims that is a faulty number at best. Barro says that Trump is using a report from Citibank littered with mathematical errors, and that does not actually make that claim.
“Citi makes no convincing argument that the post office is losing money on Amazon,” Barro wrote.
“A rule forcing the post office to price packages higher, losing market share to private competitors, would lead to more unused capacity in the existing postal trucks, not to a right-sizing of the post office,” he added.
On top of Trump’s rift with Amazon, for a long time Republicans have wanted to fully privatize USPS. The agency has seen a consistent revenue decline for years, and conservative lawmakers see turning it into a business as a way to bring in more money.
Hunter Walker, the White House correspondent for Yahoo News, wrote that this pandemic could give Republicans their shot at privatizing it if they wanted. Ronnie Stutts, the president of the National Rural Letter Carriers Association told Yahoo that plans to get funding for the USPS in stimulus packages seemed promising “until they got to the White House.”
The Treasury Department and Trump want “to privatize postal service,” he added.
“There’s no two ways about it,” Stutts told Yahoo. “And when it got there, he killed it. They said no. He was not going to give us any money.”
Privatizing USPS would likely come with consequences. They would no longer have to fulfill the obligation of delivering mail anywhere throughout the country at an equal rate, something that would largely impact rural areas.
Public Favorability for USPS
USPS saw a lot of support online over the weekend, with people using #SaveThePostOffice to encourage people to buy stamps and give the service revenue during this crisis. USPS gets no taxpayer money and only profits off of the services it provides, making it even more vulnerable during this time.
Despite these efforts to put the post office at risk, the public actually has a favorable opinion of the agency, which is established in the United States constitution. According to a 2019 poll from Pew, it is the most favorable government agency in the, getting a 90% approval rating. This is even higher than the National Parks Service and NASA.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Vox) (Vanity Fair)
Lawmakers Call For Action as Oil Companies Post Record Profits Amid Rising Gas Prices
A recent analysis from the Center for American Progress found that the top five oil companies earned over 300% more in profits during the first quarter of 2022 than the same period last year.
As Consumer Prices Climb, Big Oil Profits
American oil companies are facing increased scrutiny over profiteering practices as gas prices continue to surpass record highs driven by Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
Last week, costs surged to above $4 per gallon in all 50 states for the first time ever, according to the auto club AAA. Prices are currently averaging over $4.59 per gallon nationwide, which is 50% higher than they were this time last year.
In addition to consumers hurting at the pump, there are also rising concerns for industries that rely on fuel and oil like trucking, freight, airlines, and plastic manufacturers.
To account for high prices, some in sectors have responded by ramping up prices further down the supply chain to account for costs, putting even more of a burden on consumers to pay for everyday items.
But as Americans struggle with sky-high gas prices at a time of record inflation, recently released earnings reports show that many of the world’s largest oil companies thrived in the first quarter of 2022.
ExxonMobil more than doubled its earnings from the same period last year, reporting a net profit of $5.5 billion. Meanwhile, Chevron logged its best quarterly earnings in almost a decade, and Shell had its highest earnings ever.
According to a new analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress, the top five oil companies — including the three mentioned above — earned over 300% more in profits this quarter than during the same time last year.
“In fact, these five companies’ first-quarter profits alone are equivalent to almost 28 percent of what Americans spent to fill up their gas tanks in the same time period,” the report noted.
Per Insider, for at least four of those companies, that growth marks a tremendous increase in profits from even before the pandemic.
Lawmakers Ramp-Up Efforts to Reduce Prices
To address these startling disparities, federal lawmakers have moved in recent weeks to increase pressure on oil companies and take steps to lower prices.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill proposed by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Ca.) that aims to reduce gas prices. The legislation, called The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, would give the president the authority to issue an Energy Emergency Declaration that would be effective for up to 30 days with the possibility of being renewed.
In that emergency period, it would be illegal for anyone to increase gas or home energy fuel prices to a level that is exploitative or “unconscionably excessive.”
The proposal would also give the Federal Trade Commission the power to investigate and manage instances of price gouging from larger companies and give state authorities the ability to enforce price-gouging violations in civil courts.
The bill, which has already seen widespread opposition from Republicans and extensive lobbying from pro-oil interest groups, faces an uphill battle in the 50-50 split Senate.
During debate on the act Thursday, Rep. Porter delivered an impassioned speech accusing oil companies of driving their record profits by using their market power to unfairly increase prices.
“The oil and gas industry currently has more than 9,000 permits to drill for oil on federal land, but they are deliberately keeping production low to please their investors and increase their short-term profits,” she said. “Even when the price of crude oil falls, oil and gas companies have refused to pass those savings on to consumers.”
“Let me be clear: price gouging is anti-capitalist,” Porter continued. “It exploits a lack of competition, which is a hallmark of capitalism. It is an effort to juice corporate profits at the expense of customers. Energy markets are reeling because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Big oil companies, however, are using this temporary chaos to cover up their abuse.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (NPR)
Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down
After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.
The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.
Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.
A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.
The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.
In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.
The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.
A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.
Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye
“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.
Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.
Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.
“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.
When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.
“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”
On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.
On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)
U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide
India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.
One Million Dead
The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.
Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.
The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.
By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.
The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.
The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.
The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.
People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.
Fifteen Million Dead
On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.
Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.
Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.
The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.
“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.
Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.