May 27, 2020

The U.S. Postal Service: It's Future Is At Risk


For 228 years our country has depended on a government controlled agency to deliver the mail. Checks, magazines, medicine and supplies, catalogs, gifts, letters...all manner of communication and commerce have arrived, without fail, six days a week, in our mailbox.

The shift in how we communicate, shop, pay bills, and receive income has changed over the past few decades. As a result the U.S. Postal service lost nearly $9 billion dollars in 2019. With the economic effects of Covid-19, that loss will certainly be much worse this year.

The Postal Service receives no taxpayer funding. It must deliver whatever it takes in to every address in the United States, six days a week, and pay for all that strictly on income. As an added problem, the postal service must pre- fund retiree health benefits for 75 years. Seventy Five years! No other government agency, even those who receive tax funds, must do so. Obviously, that is a burden that almost guarantees the service will operate in the red.

All that money, more than $110 billion, is supposed to be held for future retirees. In a typical government move, most of it has been siphoned away to help pay down the national debt. So, the enforced savings plan does not have the resources to pay future needs. 

The cost of mailing letters and packages has risen steadily. Under the category of unintended consequences, each price increase results in lower mail volume, thus less income. The problem feeds on itself.

When the postal service officials have presented requests to Congress to modify or improve service, they have often been rebuffed. In 2013, for example, there was a move to eliminate Saturday delivery, saving $2 billion dollars in desperately needed expenses. Congress vetoed that idea, demanding the service continue with universal, six-day-a-week service, but providing no additional funds. Basically, the service was told:" You don't generate enough income to fulfill your mission. Tough Luck. Figure it out." 

So, the Postal Service has projected it will run out of money in September. A recent request for bailout money has been rejected out of hand by Congress and the administration. Again, a reminder: this organization is like any private company that has requested a bailout, except it must provide its full range of services, and cannot raise its prices without Congressional approval.

President Trump has stepped into the mess, calling the U.S. Postal service a joke. He demands the service raise its package shipping rates by 400%. Of course, he fails to realize that package shipping is the one area in which the postal service generates the bulk of its income. First class and junk mail lose money.

Quadrupling the rates would drive most of those customers to other services, like UPS or Fedex, accelerating the death spiral. It would impact Amazon, owned by a man in great disfavor inside the White House. That fact seems to be the major motivator.

Now, here is where the survival of the U.S. Postal Service suddenly becomes incredibly important. Because of the pandemic, it is very likely that much of the November election will be conducted by mail. A crippled organization financially incapable of meetings its mandate will be in charge of sending out and receiving tens of millions of ballots. 

When there are problems, as there certainly will be, the losing side will likely claim all sorts of miscreant behavior, throw the totals into question, and demand the results be voided or investigated. The result? The current occupant of the White House and all members of Congress up for election, will remain firmly in place. The November election will become a non-event until courts sort it all out.

To demand that a service like the Post Office do a particular job but not provide a way to pay for it is ludicrous. Is there waste in the organization? Sure. There is waste in anything. But, that is not why the U.S. Postal Service is failing. It is about to go out of business because of the requirements put in place by its boss (Congress) are not properly funded, and attempts to adjust its business model to reflect reality are shot down.

There are some in Congress who believe the postal service should be privatized. That would likely result in an elimination of service to many rural and out-of-the-way places, since they are expensive to serve. It might mean a reduction in service to only a few times per week and for only certain types of mail. It certainly would usher in much higher prices. The company granted this hold over a basic communication and commerce service would be picked for its support of a certain political viewpoint. In short, allowing a private company to control our country's mail service would be a very bad idea.

Two weeks ago, a new Administrator of the Postal Service was appointed. He has zero experience in this field; his only qualification is he is a supporter of and donor to the administration. It is pretty obvious this will not be the route to solutions.

The failure of such a basic service to our society has enormous consequences, never more so than at a time when a general election hangs in the balance.

Wiser minds than mine need to find a solution before it is too late.



34 comments:

  1. I think you are wrong about the current people staying in place until the votes are sorted out. I think the winners will go on to take office and the fight will begin.

    In the fifties mail was delivered twice a day in my county. My friend's mother would write a letter to her sister who lived on the other side of the county. The mailman would pick it up deliver it and wait for her to write an answer and deliver it the same day in the afternoon.

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    1. I would agree about the office holder situation in a normal world. Our current president has shown that the Constitution and laws don't apply to him if he simply ignores them. Any scenario is possible come fall.

      I remember the days of twice-a-day mail delivery during my very early youth.

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  2. Good post Bob. I think you are changing my mind on the value of keeping it funded. But, I still think it needs to do some fundamental changes like closing some post offices and eliminating Saturday delivery.

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    1. Congressmen from more rural districts have prevented the service from eliminating Saturday delivery, even though it is the most obvious cut to make with no damage.

      I expect the use of a local post office where people who live within a certain area will pick up their mail in person. The elimination of house-to-house delivery would be a real gamechanger, but put our less-mobile citizens in a bind.

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  3. I grew up in a rural small town and the post office was a daily hub for everyone picking up mail from their rented PO boxes (we had no house to house delivery, and my home town still doesn't). The post office has since consolidated and cut hours on many, many small town post offices. Although I live near a larger city now, the rural post office that is our actual address now has limited hours, and they're actually closed over the lunch hour. All this is fine with me - I typically purchase and print my own labels, then drop packages off at any PO location. In rural areas, they have done what any business would do to survive. But, like you, I can't imagine the logic of Congress not allowing them to cut hours (or cut Saturday delivery) but then not funding them. It's just become a political football like so much in this country now. Package delivery is done on Sundays, though, so I'm not sure why eliminating mail delivery on Saturday makes much difference. They need to do what is necessary to survive. A perfect example of a government service that is worth funding via taxes. And the pension funding has to be seriously considered for a rewrite IMO.

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    1. Personally, I would have no problem with cuts to just a few days a week delivery. As it is I only empty my community mailbox 2 or 3 times a week.

      I have to think there is some political move going on that is behind the decision to demand a level of service but make it impossible to execute.

      Make it impossible to perform and then cry foul when reality happens. Seems very Washington-like.

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  4. Not living in the US I don't know much about the US Post Office but can say that compared to Canada, after accounting for currency exchange, postage rates are about 20% to 30% lower in the US than in Canada. I know a little bit about Canada Post but I am no expert with inside knowledge but if it helps your discussion here's what I do know.

    In 1981 Canada Post became an arms-length "Crown Corporation", which means that it is owned by the government but no longer run by the government (USPS may have a similar arrangement). Like USPS Canada Post is similarly mandated to be self-funding and often they run a small profit which is returned to their owners, the federal government. As you say for USPS, package delivery is a growing and profitable part of their business. We have no Saturday delivery and haven't had since 1969. Door to door delivery accounts for only about 30% of addresses with the rest having to pickup their mail at neighbourhood "community mailboxes". Community mailboxes were first rolled out in 1985 for all new addresses and expanded in fits and starts since then. In 2014 there was an initiative to migrate all remaining addresses to community mailboxes, we ourselves were migrated to a community mailbox in 2014, but the migration was halted after a federal election (campaign promises and all that). There are few free standing Post Offices as we used to know them, most now are franchise arrangements with "post office" space in a local retailer where you can buy stamps, mail packages etc.

    I have no idea if my incomplete knowledge of Canada Post is helpful to your discussion but good luck sorting it all out. What I can say is that to end up where Canada Post is now (for better or worse) took decades of change that was resisted at almost every step. The truth is none of us really likes change, especially to what we see as an essential government service.

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    1. Thanks for the overview of Canada's system. Likely, this is where the U.S. version will end up at some point. Phoenix has a lot of community mailboxes...mine is a block from my house. No one I know really expects delivery to an at-home mailbox or mail slot as a right of citizenship.

      Saturday delivery is a leftover from the days when so many important functions were conducted by mail. Now, 95% of what I get is junk mail and advertising flyers. Almost everything of importance happens online.

      The one area that is really the central point of this post is the ability for mail-in voting. Arizona has permitted that for years. I haven't had to go to a polling place for at least 7 or 8 years. The idea that mailed ballots equal massive fraud is just a fantasy wrapped up in a lie.

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    2. I understand Bob. After I posted I wondered if the problem was the post office itself (which is what I was commenting on) or if this was perhaps a symptom of a deeper issue. It seems the Post Office is a deeper issue than I first thought.

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  5. Like a lot of problems, the answer is right there in front of us -- eliminate Sat. delivery, close redundant post offices, raise prices esp for junk mail -- but politics won't let it happen.

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    1. You have put a spotlight on the obvious steps...too obvious for them to have much of a chance.

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  6. This whole topic just boils my blood. The post office is essential whether we use it or not. The move to privatize it has nothing to do with making its service better and everything to do with driving up the profits to UPS who had their fingers in writing that 75 year funding of pension. Add to that now Trump's feud with the owner of Amazon is fueling the move to bankrupt the post office. We NEED a government controlled data base that knows exactly where everyone lives for times of war and other extreme emergencies. We will lose that if we lost the post office. A few years back the post office not only wanted to stop Saturday delivers they also wanted to be able to offer sending faxes and other computer services but wasn't allowed because the Republican led congress doesn't want them to stay solvent and oh, yes, it's starting to look like that's partly about stopping voting by mail.

    Amazon has its own delivery trucks in my town and is big enough to survive Trump's assault but I truly hate the vindictiveness of our president who doesn't care how many little guys get hurt in his personal feuds. Where are all those postal workers going to find jobs in our present economy if the office office is forced to close in September?

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    1. There seems to be no part of our societal life that this administration won't work to find a way to make the rich richer, and the more powerful even more so. Next? Maybe a fully privatized military. How about a poll tax that is too high for most of us to pay? Against the Constitution? So what. That hasn't even slowed these people down in other areas.

      What we are learning is the Executive Branch can do virtually anything it wants and Congress plus the Courts are just along for the ride.

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  7. It’s a political ploy, pure and simple.Well, not so pure! I expect just about anything these days, if it is a means to an end for trump.So disgusted.

    Lighter note: When we lived in Pine, the post office on Main Street was a hub of socializing,community notices,brownies on the counter, and food drive boxes..everyone had a post office box up there so you had to pick up your mail.It was one of the charming parts of living in a rural town.. (but the not so charming parts ran me out! ). .. I’m just happy when my important mail is not LOST.. I missed a deadline to renew my Nursing License one year and promptly changed it to receive a notice electronically.

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    1. Just think: your local postal office could become the new Starbucks, without the overpriced drinks. A gathering place for the community and an excuse to see and talk with others. Sounds pretty nice.

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  8. I have never commented on a blog before. Your comment "Our current president has shown that the Constitution and laws don't apply to him if he simply ignores them" in the comment section made me go and read the Constitution again to see what he's done. The only part of the Constitution I could see being ignored is Section 5-4 and that is being ignored by Nancy Pelosi. I can't comment on the laws because there are so many of them. I, along with many others, probably break some and don't even know it.

    I've heard more about this president than any other that's been elected and it's been non-stop for over three years. I feel it's mostly because the "right" person wasn't elected. Please list, or do a blog, listing the parts of the Constitution and the laws he has ignored or don't apply to him because I would really like to know. Hopefully before the next election. Thanks in advance and keep blogging.

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    1. Thank you for your question. You have stated it in a way that certainly deserves a serious answer. Because space is limited, I will cite just a few examples of his law-breaking actions:

      8 U.S. Code § 872: “Extortion by officers or employees of the United States.” His use of aid money related to Ukraine resulted in his impeachment. he was not removed from office because the GOP-led refused to even call witnesses.

      2 U.S. Code § 192, “Refusal of witness to testify or produce papers. ”A refusal to abide by lawful subpoena would land you or me in jail for a year. Mr. Trump? Nothing was done.

      The emolument clause prohibits an elected official from owning a business that benefits from his or her position. His Washington Hotel is the most obvious example. Mar-a-Logo is another when the Trump organization charges the U.S. government top rates for the secret service agents and all the others who must accompany him (on his 266 golf trips so far).

      Just those few examples could remove him from office and put him in Federal custody for 10 years. But, he knows that with a Senate controlled by his party he is safe. I haven't included the Russian interference because the Mueller Report didn't "convict" him since the DOJ says a sitting president can't be convicted of anything. In their view, the President is above the law and cannot be questioned about his motives.

      Starting with the Muslim travel ban attempt in 2017, Trump has had orders or directives overturned 68 times by Federal agencies because he didn't have the legal authority to do so. His approach to governing is to do what he wants until someone stops him. Then, he finds a work-around. Example: Congress, who has the total authority on budget matters, said no to money for the border wall. Trump took money from the Pentagon budget to start it anyway.

      Not law-breaking activity, but provable lying over 15,000 times since he took office, supporting white supremacists, firing oversight officials (likely illegal, too), paying off porn stars, ignoring his own administration's warning about the virus back in January....the list is too long for this post.

      It isn't likely that any of these examples will convince you. But, I support your right to ask in a reasonable manner.

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    2. Bob, you have obviously just scratched the surface. Perhaps, as Anonymous suggested, you could do a whole post about this. You may have to break it up into two or three installments.

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    3. Thank you for your answer. I don't vote the same ticket every time and try learn about both (and sometimes all three) presidential candidates before casting my vote. Once I have voted, that's all I can do. The candidate that wins (whether my chosen one or not) becomes my president for the next four years. The next election, I have the opportunity to try for change or keep my president in office if I feel he (or she someday) is deserving. Again thank you for your answer.

      By the way, I am not the Anonymous above at 9:39.

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    4. That anonymous rant has been deleted. He/she was not adding to the discussion,.

      Thank you again for your original question. I hope my response adds you your store of information prior to the election. Keep asking, keep researching, and vote your conscience.

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  9. Nothing new. The postal service has been in the hole since the 70's. I'm surprised they have lasted as long as they have. I'd hate to see them go, but change is inevitable.

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    1. Then, how do citizens vote by mail? How are addresses confirmed for the Census when Congress doesn't provide the money for in-person collection? How do people who don't have direct-deposit banking accounts (roughly 14 million Americans) receive checks?

      You may not like junk mail, but it is an industry that employs over 10 million people. Without the postal service that industry and all the people that support it would be on the street.

      Why is the Postal Service required to fund pensions 75 years into the future, and then have the funds diverted to other uses?

      There are many important ramifications of allowing the postal service to die...none of them good.

      Absolutely, the execution of the Postal Service's mission needs to adjust. But, it can't just shut its doors and walk away.

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  10. I really hate how this pandemic is being used to further the administration's political agenda. At a time when we should be doing what we can to protect our citizens, such as encouraging mail-in ballots, the president and his GOP enablers are trying to force people to stand in line (made even longer as they strategically cull registration lists and shut down polling stations). These are the types of tactics we used to read about from dictatorships and third-world countries. Empathy, fairness, and shame don't appear to be part of their DNA.

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    1. I feel that comment about the current administration is a "blinders on" viewpoint. I see both sides of the political isle taking advantage of this pandemic to try to further each of their own party platforms. The political behavior ongoing is nothing new so I feel we are fooling ourselves if we start to believe that what we see ongoing in politics is unique to the Wuhan virus outbreak. I encourage each of you to explore the opposing viewpoint to your beliefs in order to try to attain a more balanced view of what is occurring. Peace and health to you and all your readers Bob!

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  11. How about the Emoluments,”Anonymous”..he is making millions off his properties by renting to government officials form our country as well as foreign countries..his family is benefitting from government servic ein their private business all over the place. He WAS IMPEACHED.

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    1. I mentioned that in my response but the GOP doesn't seem to care, nor does the GAO, which gave him a complete pass on the Washington hotel.

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  12. "The Post Office has come under fire for its deal with Amazon, where it charges the company prices below its own costs. The arrangement has drawn criticism from President Trump, who said the policy is making “Amazon richer” and itself “dumber and poorer.” He also said only “fools” would say that “our money-losing Post Office makes money with Amazon.” May 19,2019

    The administrators of the postal service did not even bother to check with the people working for them. My local PO was overwhelmed-started delivering seven days a week in u haul trucks. Maybe you just did not notice? Do you want a mail service or a delivery service. That seems to have been taken care of with Amazon just abusing their own work force. That seems to have been taken care of with Amazon just abusing their own work force.
    Really, we should close large city post offices. The rural communities need them more then the large cities- with their delivery services and junk mail. Their people tend to be more mobile and can go to a large PO to pick up their stuff. Right? Seems logical to me.

    As far as the distain you seem to harbor--- Unfortunately the impeachment came at the same time as the Congress should have been focused on the pandemics.

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    1. If I were a Twitter official, I'd have to label that quote as misleading and factually incorrect. Postal Office administrators report that package delivery is what has kept them afloat even this long. Without business from companies like Amazon, there would be no postal service. It is first class and junk mail that is a massive money loser.

      All bulk mailers, like Amazon, get quantity discounts based on their volume. Every single thing you order online is likely coming from a company that gets the same discounts. They also help by putting on mailing labels, routing information, and deliver the packages to designated Postal Centers rather than having the post office send trucks.

      Mail carriers are protected by a strong union. The average salary for the person who drives that truck is $48,000 a year, with the ability over time to earn close to $70,000. If Amazon is mistreating its workers or underpaying them that has absolutely nothing to do with the service the Postal Service must provide by law.

      As to your final point, the administration should have focused on the pandemic when it was first reported in January. Congress has no role in reacting until the Executive branch provides information. My "disdain" is for the unnecessary 1000,000 deaths (and counting) caused by total incompetence in the WH.

      Again, thoiugh, that has nothing to do with the fate of the Postal Service.

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    2. You are not in touch with your post man. Maybe some first hand reporting if you are doing a fact piece. Many, many mail carriers are contractors. They are paid for the route- no matter how long it takes. Contractors are common way of doing business with the government these days--no strings.
      Alex, a cool Cambodian American, contracted my route before the Amazon deal. He often had to run the route twice to deliver from his overwhelmed mail truck. When his contract was up, he quit. The post office put out another help wanted sign and had to hire three people to his one. I asked Jeannie, the black postal clerk, what happened to Alex. She said that she was one of two actual PO workers at my branch...everyone else was contract- even the throwers (those who sort mail at night--my husband did that one).
      As far as the virus--revisionist history is fascinating.

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  13. I believe that the USPS has been in distress for years. The current situation with them is nothing new. "Snail Mail" is no longer the mainstay of most forms of communications. Most of the younger generation only check their "snail mail" boxes every month or so just in case something was physically mailed to them versus using email or some other form of delivery (UPS, FedEX, etc). We have moved all our bills and payments we can to be electronic in nature. Most people I know have done the same thing, however, I do see a trend in many people who are more elderly of not migrating to electronic mediums for communications. We also have a small segment of the population that does not have readily available access to the internet or cell phone data services to take advantage of electronic communications. I have also seen some good points by people on this blog about getting Census info out to physical addresses for people who do not complete the forms online. How does that work when someone chooses to have only a PO box at a Post Office or a UPS store versus using a physical address? I think we are at a crossroads right now with the USPS. The need for their services has been greatly reduced and they have not cut services to more align with the demand and the changes in technology. Also, voting by mail is just a stopgap attempt to try to move towards a more online voting system which will be much more effective than using the USPS or any other paper based system. The challenge we have is that of fraud and "meddling" of any online system. How do we securely protect the system? How do we ensure the person submitting the vote is doing so on their own without someone else assisting them and telling them which buttons to select? How do we keep the data protected and safe? Those are some of the many challenges that we must overcome. We have data breaches occurring frequently (see all the high profile data breach reports as examples) and these breaches have significant impact to individuals and the affected companies. We also have a lot of USPS mail that never gets delivered or is delivered to the wrong address. I have received mail for neighbors streets away on numerous occasions in my mailbox. How can we even assume that any mail we send to vote by will 100% even make it to the county clerk's office for counting? How do we validate identity of the voter by mail? Online would be easier and much better for voting if we can secure it as there are many legal ways to electronically verify one's identity. I am all for moving away from going to polling places but USPS mail is not the answer in my humble opinion. If we did go with a secure online voting system, we would have to have some physical voting places (be it online or in person) where people who have no access to the internet of cell data services could go vote.

    USPS should significantly reduce their services to cut costs and align their services with the demand that has mostly evaporated. Just my 2 cents worth.

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    1. Your final sentence summarizes the logical solution. But, Congress tells the Postal Service what it can and cannot do and how much it is allowed to charge. Without their consent, there is no legal way for the Postal Service to cut costs and align their services to match reality.

      33 million Americans can't afford Internet access, including 19 million who live in places where broadband Internet isn't even offered. While online voting would be nice, those numbers say it would be impossible. And, frankly, with the number of computer hacks and reports of stolen data. online voting would be much more liable to fraud than mail.

      Quite a conundrum.

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  14. There have been several instances in our area of Postal Service carriers reporting mail accumulating in boxes, which unfortunately led to the discovery of deceased residents, who likely would have not been discovered for weeks ( longer). Another of a carrier hearing cries for help, leading to the rescue of an injured senior. I look upon the postal service as an extension of the community. Their eyes and ears can detect when something is "out of the ordinary" on their route, much like the "cop on the beat" did in the old days. I think it is common for many who criticize the USPS or are ambivalent about its future, do not understand the contributions they make to the poor, the elderly and the isolated--in both urban and rural communities. When I see the US military get multi-billion dollar ships and aircraft that the defense department does not want or need (among other waste) I am saddened when a vital program goes on the chopping block, led by a petulant grievance against the owner of Amazon.

    Rick in Oregon

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    1. Two thumbs up, Rick. One or two multi-billion dollars planes we don't need would solve the problem.

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