Newly appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has thrown himself into a new agenda for the U.S. Postal Service, one that aligns quite nicely with Wall Street and its ideological allies. But there’s a better way, and that’s to turn the postal service into a hub for services that communities need but can’t get.
The Trump administration’s privatization blueprint starts with service cuts and price hikes, and ends in selling off profitable products to the private sector and de facto abandoning the post office’s mandate to serve everyone.
The logical outcome of the Trump administration’s approach is the exclusion of rural and tribal communities from postal routes that are no longer profitable.
Wall Street agenda
It’s an agenda that Wall Street appears to like. On news that DeJoy would not be requesting emergency funds for the Postal Service, but cutting services instead, UPS UPS, +0.86% and FedEx FDX, +0.14% stock went through the roof. It was revealed last month that JP Morgan Chase JPM, -3.11%, the nation’s largest bank, is in talks with the USPS on an exclusive contract to locate Chase branches and ATMs in post offices.
There is simply no reason to sacrifice the USPS to the whims of the market: it’s a service, not a business. The fact that the Constitution itself empowers universal postal service suggests the founders of this country had more in mind than money.
But what exactly? The Postal Service is in a unique position of having over 33,000 locations across the country, often in urban and rural ZIP Codes without a single bank branch. Trust in the agency runs deep: 91% of Americans view the USPS favorably. It has long provided a pathway to the middle class for Black Americans, who faced discrimination in the private labor market.
If Congress rolled back artificial barriers that hamper USPS—notably the highly unusual requirement that it prefund the retirement benefits of postal workers who aren’t even born yet—the agency would be well-placed to deliver services beyond the mail.
A bank in every neighborhood
Take banking. One in four American households is unbanked or underbanked, and banking-while-poor is expensive; underserved Americans now spend twice as much money on fees and interest each year ($173 billion) than the federal budget for the food stamps program, often on alternative financial services such as payday lenders, title lenders, and check cashers.
The big Wall Street banks that do serve low-income households often only consider them acceptable customers if they can charge fees.
What if regular people could have a basic bank account at the post office? What if, instead of paying as much as $7.50 to use a gas station ATM like some rural Americans are forced to do, you could use a public ATM at the post office for a minimal fee? What if you could send remittances to family members in over 100 countries for a nominal fee? What if you could cash your paycheck at the post office?
A version of postal banking that’s gaining traction would have the Federal Reserve provide regular people with the same no-fee high-interest accounts that it now reserves for commercial banks, with the Postal Service serving as a system of brick-and-mortar branches. This plan won support from Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Wait! There’s more
Postal banking is just the start.
What if you could also register to vote at the post office? What if you could visit your local post office for wireless access, or better yet, what if the USPS partnered with internet-service providers to expand broadband to remote places at affordable rates? What if you could add money to your bus or subway pass at the post office? What if you could get a fishing or hunting license at the post office, or apply for government benefits? What if the USPS partnered with the U.S. Census to reach remote communities?
These ideas are neither new nor are they radical. In the case of postal banking, we’d be restoring an institution that thrived in this country from 1911-67, which only shuttered as a result of the lobbying power of the big private banks. Countries including France, Japan, Germany, Korea, and Taiwan all have postal banking. Other ideas, such as partnering with the Census Bureau or state fish and wildlife agencies to make government services more accessible, are simply the right thing to do.
The brightest future for the Post Office does not lead down Wall Street. It leads down the road toward solutions for problems that real people face each and every day. It’s time to start the journey.
Porter McConnell is campaign director of Take on Wall Street, a coalition of community groups, labor unions, consumers, racial and gender justice groups, and faith organizers coming together to build a financial system for white, Black, and brown working families, not big Wall Street banks.