What we’d lose with the postal service extends beyond blue mailboxes and dogs barking at trucks. We’d lose jobs, governmental trust, and an art has been dying for decades: the hand-written letter.
The personal is political, but it’s became apparent that the postal is too. Since the onset of The Pandemic, the United States Postal Service has faced a surge in package deliveries. While increased volumes may signal optimism for the future of the nation’s postal well-being, these numbers have proven to cause detrimental staffing issues, to spur ill-advised infrastructural adjustments, and to impose an imminent threat to a cornerstone of American Democracy. While package deliveries have kept the USPS’ finances in better standing than the agency had hoped, these numbers are not sustainable. Even if package deliveries continue at this pandemic-level rate, the USPS can only hold out until October 2021. If package delivery numbers return to the pre-pandemic levels, the USPS will be out of cash by March 2021 (WP).
The USPS recently released a memo detailing changes in that, according to various Postal Worker Unions leaders and politicians, would threaten the integrity of the postal service. One line of the page-and-a-half, bullet-point memo that had it been written on a napkin by postmaster general Louis DeJoy while he was maskless in an indoor restaurant, struggling to spell the word “efficiently” wouldn’t be surprising, reads:
One aspect of these changes that may be difficult for some employees is that – temporarily – we may see mail left behind or mail on the workroom floor or docks (in P&DCs), which is not typical. We will address root causes of these delays and adjust the very next day.
DeJoy’s changes are targeting transportation costs, which are a marginal loss compared to the major compromise of customer service. These transportation cutbacks also generate a comparatively small profit to what’s needed to actually sustain the agency.
Though these delays are temporary, their effects will be detrimental, especially considering that this time is unequivocally the most important time for on-time deliveries. Major mailing corporations restrict their delivery services from highly rural areas, so the USPS is the lifeline between those communities and external resources. These concerning resources aren’t magazine subscriptions; they’re medicines. They’re vaccines when they become available. They’re mail-in ballots, absentee ballot applications, and vital voter information. Increasing efficiency by excluding communities only serves to further disenfranchise Americans. These changes will disproportionately effect poorer, rural areas with fewer postal workers and less availability to get their mail through other services that don’t deliver to them otherwise.
The rural postal workforce is already struggling to fulfill deliveries as it is, with 15% unable to work at some point and over 25,000 who had isolate themselves (FNN). These workers have demanded aid from USPS through various unions and pleas, but the USPS has yet to settle on a rescue plan. What have they done? Cut back overtime pay. If USPS mailing becomes as unreliable as the government that claims to protect it, then it will run out of money and become yet another victim to squashed democracy veiled as American exceptionalism.
Though the government has granted the USPS a $10 billion loan, the USPS is unable to access that money without first agreeing to terms that would only further discourage people to rely on the USPS. The agency has had to increase its rates by 400% and institute union concessions. Analysts have deemed these actions to be immediately and directly harmful to the postal system.
So when the federal agency doesn’t receive support from the federal government and the agency itself is run by puppets of the federal government who put profit over people, what is one to do? How can one, how can you and I, rescue the United States Postal Service from itself? Easy. Write a letter: save one tradition by preserving another.
A major source of income for the USPS is postage and product sales and first-class mail. First-class mail has been declining for the past decade with alternatives for letter correspondence like email and apathetic “hbd!!” Instagram DMs, but it has been hit particularly hard the past few months, declining 15-30% each week of April and May 9SOURCE). Buying a sheet of stamps from USPS and slapping them onto letters is a direct way to increase their cash flow. While this may appear to be quite a feat, as finding someone who will read a letter you write is invariably difficult, nowadays there are dozens of reliable, well-loved pen pal programs to get involved with, including PenPal World, Compatipal, as well as ample resource guides online.
Others are more general, others are very niche and community-based. There are even pen pal programs where you can write to prison inmates, who lack adequate literacy programs and practices as it is. A grassroots writing frenzy is a great initiative that will aid the USPS in this time of distress. Limiting use of privatized mailing, buying stamps from your local post office, and reviving the tradition of hand-writing letters are simple ways you can help save the postal service that’s been a hallmark of American democracy since its inception.