The United States Postal Service (USPS) has existed for over 200 years. However, in recent years, it has become more and more clear that it may not exist for much longer.
In 1775, the Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin as the first Postmaster General. They realized that the colonies’ survival depended on the existence of a service that ensured that letters and messages were delivered across the land quickly and reliably, a necessity that has continued to this day
More specifically, the USPS is an independent agency of the US federal government executive branch, and is responsible for receiving, sorting, and delivering letters and packages around the country. Because of this government affiliation, it is required to deliver mail to and from any US citizen with an address, no matter where they live, and has a huge workforce of more than 7.3 million people. It also has an exclusive legal right to deliver Standard and First-Class Mail. However, because it is an independent organization, the USPS does not receive any tax dollars and must rely on money from the sale of stamps and other service fees.
The USPS has been experiencing financial issues for a long time. As statistics from the U.S. Government Accountability Office show, it has lost 69 billion dollars in the past 11 years. These problems started when the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act was passed in 2006. This law required the USPS to pay for retiree health benefits 75 years in advance, which is a mandate that had never been imposed on any other organization (private company or government agency). This was detrimental to the profitability of the service since it required them to set aside around 5.6 billion dollars each year to prepare to pay for this, as opposed to the way they had done it in the past, which was in installments. This issue has been exacerbated by the fact that people have sent less and less mail on average as technology has progressed.
Additionally, because of strict, government-imposed rules that prohibit them from lowering costs and from finding alternative ways to increase profit, the USPS is less able to compete with other private companies like UPS or FedEx.
It’s clear that this crisis has been a long time in the making. So why should we care now? Well, new policies set forward by the incumbent Postmaster General Louis DeJoy have made the USPS much less effective and reliable, and, although this consequence wasn’t necessarily intentional, it negatively impacts many people.
First of all, the decline of the USPS could negatively affect people in remote areas, since it is the only way they are able to receive and send out packages or letters. These places include Magnolia Springs (a small community in Alabama that is only accessible by water), the Havasupai reservation (a Native American tribe that lives at the bottom of the Grand Canyon), and many states like Alaska or Colorado during the winter (when mail can only be delivered by snowmobile).
More significantly, if the USPS ceases to exist, millions of jobs will be lost, jobs like mail carriers or truck operators, which are secure and have good retirement benefits, and which many people rely on to survive.
Finally, in terms of the USPS’s relevance at this moment in time, there has been a great increase in the number of people who are voting or who want to vote in the presidential election by mail because of the coronavirus. These ballots are picked up and delivered by the USPS. A lack of funding for the USPS makes this process difficult and slow, which could make it so that it takes longer to know the results of the election, possibly even weeks after Election Day. This in turn may allow for the questioning of the results of the election when they are finally released, and, if the results are not trusted or believed, they will be contested, which is an action that is not necessarily favorable for a democracy.
However, this doesn’t only affect the 2020 presidential election. For many, filling out ballots at home and mailing them in is much more convenient, and because of this, after voting by mail out of necessity, there will most likely be many people who continue to vote this way. This imbues the USPS with much more significance to the individual citizens that make up our government, and thus their problems have also become much more important. Since they have had so much trouble turning a profit in recent years, the USPS can’t focus as much on making their services as efficient and reliable as is necessary for the functioning of our democracy.