COVID-19 Update • Whitmer Addresses Unemployment While U.S. Postal Service Struggles

State Still Waiting for Guidance from U.S. Dept. of Labor

Posted In: News, State, National,   By: Robert E Martin

07th April, 2020     0

At her press conference yesterday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer explained how the State of Michigan was attempting to address an unprecedented number of unemployment claims due to COVID-19 and the strain it has placed upon Michigan’s infrastructure, which coincides at the same time the United States Postal Service is struggling.

She noted how as many people filed for unemployment in one day as any of the longest week of the Great Recession of 2008, which logged 77,000 claims. “Two weeks prior to COVID-19 first presenting in Michigan, we were averaging around 5,000 claims for a week. The week of March 15th through the 21st there were 127,000 new claims. It was 5,000 and now it’s 127,000. The week of March 22nd through 28th it was 300,000 new claims.  More people have applied in two weeks than in all of 2019.”

Whitmer went on to address how the UIA system infrastructure has been overwhelmed and how the state is working with DTMB around the clock to increase website capacity. “For 1099 employees and workers, for independent contractors and gig economy workers, the additional $600 per week that we are hoping to be able to include, we are still waiting on the U.S. Department of Labor to give us the rules and authorization to pay.”

“I understand how frustrating this can be,” she continued.  “I’ve talked to a number of people who have been trying to navigate the unemployment system. I know that there are 800,000 claims, and I want you to know we will get to you. This is hard, but we cannot proceed until we’ve got the guidance from the federal government, and until we have the ability to get everyone into the queue. I’m going to be dedicating some of my time this week to help with that effort personally, and I invite anyone who would like to chip in and put their time into it, to join me.”

“I’ll continue to update Michiganders on where we are with unemployment benefits as we navigate these times, and please know I have done a lot to cut red tape and make it easier to apply for unemployment, whether it is eliminating the paperwork that used to be required, or it is alleviating the date certain for which to accrue benefits. Those things will not hold you back. We will help you get the unemployment that you deserve and that you need.”

Dire Situation for Postal Service

With erratic mail delivery reported in different parts of Saginaw and the Great Lakes Bay Region, especially in the Detroit area where mail is sent for sorting, if ever there was an entity that deserves financial relief from the coronavirus, it’s the U.S. Postal Service.

With the Coronavirus bailout navigated by Congress, requested relief for the nation’s financially troubled postal service was scrapped from the final $2.2 trillion bailout package.

The postal service is on the front line in the COVID-19 battle, processing and delivering 500,000 pieces of mail daily, including the prescription medicines, lab tests and medical supplies needed during the pandemic. 

The postal service will also be pressed into service to deliver relief checks to American workers and families in the upcoming months, and it could play an important role in upholding our democracy in the fall if voting-by-mail becomes a reality. 

As the Chicago Sun-Times recently reported, without emergency help, the agency — so important to the nation that its duties were enshrined in the U.S. Constitution more than 230 years ago — could be out of business by June

For years the agency has struggled financially, losing $8.8 billion last year. Much of that loss has been due to a dramatic drop in the volume of mail in the age of the internet. A second major factor has been a requirement that the postal service pre-fund billions of dollars in health care benefits each year for future retirees, as opposed to the pay-as-you-go method used by other government agencies.  This change was implemented back when Richard Nixon was President.

The pandemic has made things only worse for the agency, as it bears the added costs of coronavirus-related sanitation and maintenance across its vast network. Far less mail is being sent during the coronavirus crisis, which means less postage is collected. The postal service says mail volume could drop by at least 50 percent this year — the biggest drop since the Great Depression. 

The National Association of Letter Carriers warns that postal revenues, which topped $70 billion last year, could be less than half that amount in 2020. 

“Postal Service officials warn that without immediate intervention, the precipitous drop off in mail use across the country due to the coronavirus pandemic could shutter the postal service’s doors as early as June,” Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney, D-New York, and Gerald E. Connolly, D-Virginia, wrote in a joint letter to Senate Leader Mitch McConnellon March 24, two days before the bill was approved by the Senate. 

“Officials warn that without immediate intervention... he coronavirus pandemic could shutter the Postal Service’s doors as early as June.”

The House stimulus package included $25 billion in emergency appropriations to the postal service, but the set-aside was struck from the final bill that was passed by both houses and signed into law.

The next relief bill should eliminate an odious provision under current law that allows the already debt-ridden agency to borrow even more money — up to $10 billion from the U.S. Treasury — to fund efforts to deliver medical products faster and keep employees safer from the virus while doing so. 

This is a supposed lifesaver for the postal service — greater borrowing powers instead of direct financial assistance — that helps the agency not at all.

“The postal service needs our help now,” Maloney and Connelly said in their letter.

We know there are limits to what the federal government can do to make right all that’s going wrong because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But as best we can see, a fully functioning and aggressive postal service is a part of the solution to this crisis.” 

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