Murkowski, Sullivan back Senate bill to help Postal Service

A man in a blue t-shirt and sunglasses. His t-shirt reads "Save America's Postal Service." Behind him are people wearing masks holding placards.
Jim Raymond is president of the National Association of Letter Carriers Local 4319. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

President Trump has repeatedly bashed the U.S. Postal Service, and the new postmaster general confirmed Friday that he intends to cut overtime pay. It adds to the anxiety that the administration is undermining an institution that’s vital, especially to Alaska and other rural states.

The U.S. Senate’s latest coronavirus relief proposal has no funds for postal service. Alaska’s senators have added their names to a separate bill, the Postal Service Emergency Assistance Act. It establishes a $25 billion fund and frees up other money intended to help the service cope with added expenses of COVID-19.

“Our Postal Service is imperative,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said. “The requirement for universal service so that you can receive your mail or your prescription drugs if you are ordering by mail, bypass mail – these are all key for us in the state. So it’s a priority, certainly, with the Alaska delegation.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan also endorsed improving reliability in the postal service.

“I agree 100%,” he said. “It shouldn’t be politicized.”

Jim Raymond is president of the National Association of Letter Carriers Local 4319, representing postal workers in the Mat-Su, Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula. He was buoyed when the House passed the HEROES Act, a coronavirus bill with help for USPS. Then he saw the Senate’s version. 

“When the bill came out, it was clearly indicative, you know, of the continued White House pressure not to provide any funding for the Postal Service,” he said.

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But, Raymond said, the stand-alone Senate postal bill fills the need. And it’s not bogged down by controversies stalling the larger coronavirus relief bill, like whether to send more aid to states and pandemic unemployment benefits.

“Our hope is — all right, you folks can fight out everything else left in this other bill. But this bill here, let’s just focus … on the Postal Service,” Raymond said. “Let’s get this going.”

Among other new expenses, postal workers need personal protective equipment. Their trucks and buildings need more intensive cleaning. Plus, many letter carriers have to take time off work to quarantine when they or a family member tests positive.

Alaska’s senators are among 17 co-sponsors of the Postal Service Emergency Assistance Act, S. 4174.