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Saturday, October 1, 2022

Opinion | Louis DeJoy Is Doing Something Progressives Like

First the booze. Thanks to a Prohibition-era law, the Postal Service is barred from shipping alcohol to consumers. Private carriers like U.P.S. and FedEx have this lucrative business all to themselves. With an eye toward leveling the playing field, Representative Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, introduced the bipartisan United States Postal Service Shipping Equity Act in May. “It makes no sense to create a competitive disadvantage for the Postal Service by barring them from these kinds of shipments, especially given the Postal Service’s dire financial condition,” argued Ms. Speier, noting that in 2019 alone the wineries in her state shipped around 275.6 million cases of vino. This most recent version of the bill has 31 co-sponsors from both parties.

Allowing the post office into banking — make that back into banking, in which it participated for much of last century — is a more involved matter. But thanks to none other than Mr. DeJoy, it is an experiment now in progress. September saw the rollout of a pilot program in which postal outlets in four locations — Washington, D.C., Baltimore, the Bronx and Falls Church, Va. — are providing bare-bones financial services. For a small fee, customers can deposit payroll or business checks up to $500 onto a single-use “gift card” that functions like a bank debit card.

A robust postal banking system is a development that progressives, and the American Postal Workers Union, have long favored. Many Americans, especially those in lower income and minority communities, don’t trust the financial system or don’t have easy access to it. “One in four American households is unbanked or underbanked, including half of all Black households,” notes the Save the Post Office Coalition. “This leads to costly alternatives that function as a lifetime tax on accessing your own money.”

The American Postal Workers Union negotiated a banking pilot program in its 2016 contract, but the previous postmaster general declined to act on it. When Mr. DeJoy came in, the union redoubled its efforts and convinced him to give it a shot. Mr. DeJoy deserves at least a sliver of credit for giving this progressive priority a bit of space to prove itself. Postal officials are already exploring ways to expand the program.

Of course, any significant expansion would require legislation. Which means — all together now! — that Congress needs to make itself useful. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, has been championing postal banking for a few years. As part of its agenda, the Save the Post Office Coalition wanted Congress to include a more expansive test program in the appropriations for the 2022 fiscal year. The group’s co-founder, Ms. McConnell, happens to be the daughter of the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, which is kind of funny when you think about it.

Republicans like the senior McConnell are often accused of trying to undermine the Postal Service, in part because of their insistence that it should operate more like a private business — not to mention periodic calls by conservatives to fully privatize it. Mr. Trump is a hard-core post office hater, frequently trashing it during his presidency. But the survival of the service should not be a partisan matter. If anything, Republicans should be itching to keep things running smoothly, since rural areas tend to suffer most when mail services falter. It is in everyone’s interest to get creative about revitalizing this vital institution — to think outside the post office box, if you will.


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