WASHINGTON – A postcard mailed to every American household that included coronavirus social distancing guidelines and also prominently featured President Donald Trump’s name cost the U.S. Postal Service $28 million, USA TODAY has learned.
The coronavirus card, which began appearing in U.S. mailboxes in March, drew fire from good-government groups that said it applied a political veneer to the administration’s effort to inform Americans about the pandemic. The cost comes as the U.S. mail service – which Trump has described as “a joke” – is struggling financially.
“President Trump’s coronavirus guidelines for America” was emblazoned on one side of the postcard in upper-case letters. The other side of the card included social distancing recommendations, encouraging Americans to avoid restaurants and bars, forgo discretionary travel and cancel social gathering with more than 10 people.
The cards cost $4.6 million to print and $28 million overall, according to USPS spokesman David Partenheimer, who was responding to documents obtained by USA TODAY. USPS and the administration are negotiating that reimbursement, he said.
The figure is a tiny fraction of the Postal Service’s budget. It recorded more than $71 billion in revenue in the 2019 fiscal year and had more than $80 billion in expenses.
USPS has faced severe financial challenges for years, and its leadership has said those have only been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Postal officials told Congress last month that the service expected to lose $13 billion in the current fiscal year due to the coronavirus pandemic and could run out of cash by the end of September.
Trump and senior officials argue the service could take steps to alleviate its problems, such as raising the price of package deliveries. Trump has long claimed the Postal Service is undercharging online retailers – particularly Amazon – for deliveries. An increase in shipping costs would almost certainly be passed on to consumers.
“If it were anyone else, the hypocrisy would be stunning, but not with this president,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who chairs the government operations subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. “To bash the USPS while using its services for personal benefit speaks to the character of President Trump.”
Neither the White House nor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention immediately responded to a request for comment. The postcard, which was dated March 16, carried logos of both the CDC and the White House.
“The Postal Service is a joke because they’re handing out packages for Amazon and other Internet companies. And every time they bring a package, they lose money on it,” Trump said at the White House on April 24, adding that he felt the service should raise the price of package delivery by approximately four times the current rate.
In those same remarks, Trump threw cold water on a bipartisan plan that had been gaining momentum on Capitol Hill to provide a lifeline to the service.
“If they don’t raise the price, I’m not signing anything,” he said. “So they’ll raise the price so that they become maybe even profitable, but so they lose much less money.”
The president’s sharp public criticism of the Postal Service comes as he also appears to be reshaping its leadership. The USPS board of governors, now mostly made up of Trump appointees, recently announced that Louis DeJoy, a North Carolina businessman and major Trump donor, would take over as postmaster general in June.
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The Postal Service sent the coronavirus postcard to 138 million residential addresses starting on March 21. While the distancing guidelines remain in place, Trump has since encouraged states to allow restaurants, schools and businesses to reopen.
Taxpayer-funded mail for politicians is a perennial issue in Washington, usually for members of Congress. Lawmakers have the ability to send official mail to constituents under their names at taxpayers’ expense, a practice called “franking.” The messages in those documents are highly regulated but lawmakers are allowed to use their names.
Congress spent $16.9 million on official mail in the 2014 fiscal year, according to the Congressional Research Service.
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