What is Going on With the Postal Service?

Examining the Uncertainties Surrounding the United States Postal Service

Graphic+by+Grace+Dunlavy

Grace Dunlavy

Graphic by Grace Dunlavy

If you’ve been following the news, or your social media feed, over the past few months, you’ve most likely heard about the U.S. Postal Service. Perhaps you’ve scrolled idly past a few headlines about Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, or maybe you now own five shirts with “SAVE THE USPS” written across the front. Wherever your opinions lie, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the new postmaster general, the current mail delays and what that means for the impending presidential election. 

 

In May of 2020, DeJoy became the 75th Postmaster General of the United States. The postmaster general is the CEO of the U.S. Postal Service, and is elected by a board of governors. These bipartisan governors are nominated by the president for terms of seven years. One important factor to look at when examining the current state of the Postal Service is its autonomy. The Postal Service has been independent from governmental control since 1970, and they are able to stay afloat because of postal income, not taxpayer dollars. The U.S. Government is not able to single-handedly choose the postmaster general. DeJoy was elected by a group of Democratic and Republican governors, and he is lawfully the current postmaster general. Some have questioned DeJoy’s legitimacy in terms of experience. Many people have accused DeJoy of  ignoring sexual harassment, unsafe working conditions and racial discrimination in his business, and some worry that his time spent in bureaucracy will lead to negative changes in the Postal Service.

 

DeJoy has not been shy with his plans to reform the Postal Service. Since his installment as postmaster general, he has removed many mail drop-boxes and mail-sorting machines. He also cut mail carriers’ overtime and post office hours. While some of DeJoy’s changes could be beneficial—mail carriers notoriously work long, strenuous hours—most of his intentions are questionable.DeJoy claims that his drastic reforms are a result of the Postal Service’s inefficiency and wastefulness. It may be true that the Postal Service could cut back on unnecessary costs, in order to guarantee faster delivery and a more efficient use of postal carriers’ and workers’ time. However, the truth of the matter cannot be ignored. The Postal Service needs money, and cutting the number of hours that a mail carrier can work in a day is not going to solve this problem. The December 2018 USPS Task Force Report stated that the Postal Service has been losing money for decades, due to many factors. Forms of communication have changed drastically over the past decade, and the Postal Service has failed to reevaluate their mail pricing, cost allocations and their Universal Service Obligation: how the Postal Service can fulfill society’s need for postal services. The Task Force gave many recommendations, including aligning postal workers’ pay more closely with other federal employees, but they said nothing about cutting overtime and removing mailboxes.

 

The immediate consequences of Dejoy’s reforms are pronounced. Since DeJoy’s appointment mail delays have gone through the roof. As a resident of a suburban neighborhood I have not been greatly affected, but many places across the U.S., especially large cities, have experienced extensive delays in mail deliveries. Some people are waiting weeks or months for medications or financial packages, not just Amazon boxes. But the larger question has to do with something even more disturbing: How will this affect the November election? On Saturday, Aug. 22, The House of Representatives broke their recess to vote on a measure addressing DeJoy’s changes in the Postal Service, and how mail-in balloting will be affected during the November election. Democratic leaders put forth the measure in order to combat DeJoy’s untimely reforms, and to present the Postal Service with $25 million. According to their measure, the Postal Service must treat all election mail as first-class, and DeJoy would have to wait until after the November election before passing any more changes. The measure passed through the House with a count of  257 to 150. Somehow the government has turned the current state of the Postal Service into a bipartisan issue. Republicans have called the mail delays a Democratic conspiracy theory, and it’s highly unlikely that the measure would pass through the Republican-held Senate. In short, the future is unknown. 

 

As a newly-turned eighteen-year-old, I’m looking forward to being able to vote in one of the most important elections in my lifetime. How should I vote, though? The thought of entering a polling station in a pre-COVID world intimidates me, let alone in a time when visiting heavily-trafficked places could endanger the safety of myself or the people I care about. I want to opt for mail-in voting, but the current mail delays worry me. A quick note for anyone considering mail-in voting: Missouri is requiring all absentee and mail-in voting to be notarized, unless the situation is excusable due to physical incapacity or a medical condition. In order to guarantee that my voice is heard and that I can use my right to vote, I will probably vote in person. I implore you, however, to do some research. Learn more about your options, and follow the news. The situation with the Postal Service is changing on a day-to-day basis. On Monday, Aug. 31, Democratic Representative Carolyn B. Maloney announced that she would subpoena DeJoy, as a result of Postal Service documents he allegedly withheld from the House. The subpoena will likely have been carried out by the time this article is published. These developments are happening extraordinarily quickly, and everything could look completely different by November. Nevertheless, I have hope. Since its very inception in 1775, when Benjamin Franklin became the first Postmaster General during the American Revolution, the United States Postal Service has exhibited its capability during times of trouble. Mail-in balloting started during the Civil War, when soldiers wanted to vote while on the battlefield, and it continued through both World Wars. I believe that, with enough support from the people and the government, the Postal Service will rise to the occasion on Nov. 3. 

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