Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell leaves a news conference after attending a Republican luncheon on July 21. McConnell has said the series of bills Republicans and the White House put forward would only mark a starting point in negotiations.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell leaves a news conference after attending a Republican luncheon on July 21. McConnell has said the series of bills Republicans and the White House put forward would only mark a starting point in negotiations. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Senate Republicans Propose Bailout Funds for Homeland Security Department, But Not Postal Service

Money would help DHS agencies avoid furloughs.

Senate Republicans unveiled a coronavirus relief package on Monday that would help some agencies struggling to collect fees as a result of the current economic downturn, but leave the U.S. Postal Service in the lurch despite its pleas for emergency funding. 

After weeks of negotiations and false starts, the Senate majority and the White House agreed to a series of bills that amount to a roughly $1 trillion novel coronavirus relief package, including aid for small businesses and a reduced unemployment insurance benefit. The proposed Senate relief package also included $1.6 billion for Customs and Border Protection to cover fee shortfalls. CBP had floated the possibility of furloughing employees due to a dramatic decrease in revenue stemming from a drop in international travel. The Transportation Security Administration, which has also experienced a decrease in fees collected, would receive $208 million for enhanced cleaning and technology to boost distancing while screening travelers.

Elsewhere in the Homeland Security Department, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would receive a $1.2 billion loan. The nearly entirely fee-funded agency has said it will furlough more than 13,000 employees if it does not receive $1.2 billion from Congress. USCIS has already sent furlough notices to more than 70% of its workforce, which are now set for a delayed implementation date of early September. Agency officials recently told employees an uptick in receipts has left USCIS in a much better financial position and it may now end the fiscal year with a budget surplus, but the furloughs would continue as planned without congressional intervention. 

While USCIS delayed the forced, unpaid time off from early August through the end of the month, the agency confirmed in an email to employees on Monday it would soon resend new furlough notices with the new dates. The Senate proposal would also allow USCIS to raise fees so it can repay the U.S. Treasury for the loan on a schedule to be determined by the Treasury Department and DHS. 

Senate Democrats had promised relief for USCIS in the next coronavirus package, and USCIS said progressing talks with lawmakers had enabled the furlough delay. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said the series of bills Republicans and the White House put forward would only mark a starting point in negotiations. House Democrats passed their own relief package in May, which was much larger in scope and dollar amount but also did not include USCIS funding. 

The House bill did, however, include $25 billion for USPS. The mailing agency, also a fee-funded agency, has seen most parts of its business plummet during the pandemic. Postal management requested $75 billion from lawmakers, but House Democrats provided just one-third of that. Republicans did not grant any of the request. The lack of funding follows President Trump railing against the agency and suggesting on multiple occasions he would not support any financial relief for it. 

Following the swearing in of new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy last month, USPS has in recent weeks announced new strategies to cut costs by reducing overtime and late deliveries. 

“The only way that the Postal Service can continue to provide prompt, reliable, and affordable universal postal services for all Americans over the long-term is by vigorously focusing on the efficiency of our operations,” DeJoy said on Monday. “Given our current situation, it is critical that the Postal Service take a fresh look at our operations and make necessary adjustments.”

While postal management said earlier this year it would likely run out of cash by the end of September, the agency said in a financial document in May that by accessing a $10 billion loan from Treasury and prioritizing some payments over others "it expects that it will have sufficient liquidity to continue operating through at least May 2021." 

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