The Essential U.S. Postal Service
The predicament facing the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is a complicated and challenging one. For the last 14 years, the USPS has seen mail volume steadily decrease due to the onset of multiple digital platforms. We now have seen yet another reduction in volume due to the coronavirus pandemic. These declines, combined with the devastating impact of the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act and the simmering political battle over increasing fees, certainly will require a big bailout from Congress before the USPS runs out of money on September 30.
Bankrupting the USPS for political reasons, let alone in an election year plagued by a pandemic, couldn’t be more outrageous and dangerous. As it stands right now, five states conduct elections entirely by mail. The remaining states all rely on the USPS to process absentee ballots, and many states are considering universal vote-by-mail. The U.S. military and American expats living overseas rely on voting by absentee ballot.
I understand this firsthand because my husband and I lived in the Middle East during the 2016 election. The USPS definitely played a role in ensuring our ballots were counted. There are approximately 9 million U.S. citizens living and working outside of the U.S. Don’t they deserve to vote and have their voices heard?
Similarly, the USPS plays a vital role in our industry, where nonprofits are having to adapt to stay connected with their supporters. Special events, conferences, and galas are canceled or going virtual, yet donor communication is more important than ever as organizations strive during this crazy time to meet their goals. With millions of people staying home, we know that they have more time to read their mail, and we — along with many of our colleagues in the industry — are seeing a stronger response in direct mail than before the pandemic. In fact, many of our clients are mailing more, not less, which leads me back to the importance of the U.S. Postal Service. If the USPS runs out of money, thousands of charities and businesses would struggle to exist. Our entire industry would be upended, and nonprofits would suffer — not to mention our country.
I could easily spend more time talking about what losing the Postal Service would mean to charities, businesses and voters. But on a deeper, more personal level, I’ve been spending time thinking about how truly important the USPS is to our ability to maintain connections with each other. We are in our fifth month of this pandemic, and connecting with people is still very much an invaluable commodity.
I would like to share a recent and relevant personal experience. My sister, who has special needs, is living at home with me and my family. Due to the pandemic, she has been furloughed from her job, and on a day-to-day basis she doesn’t have much to do now. Leading up to the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day holidays, we had the idea that she could hand-decorate cards, add personal notes, and send them to every family member and friend who is a mother or father. For about three or four days, she diligently worked on getting these cards finished and mailed on time. She decorated each one, researched the addresses, prepared the envelopes, affixed the stamps, and placed them in our mailbox. One by one, she received calls, emails, and Facebook messages from everyone she had written, thanking her for the thoughtful card. She was so pleased with herself, and it was wonderful to see her filled with such purpose.
Sure, playing devil’s advocate, she could have emailed everyone or posted a note on their Facebook pages. But would it have produced the same effect? Would it have given her purpose in the same way this project did? Would her friends and family have been as moved in the same way? I would argue that the answer is no. Call me old-fashioned, but nothing can truly replace the feeling one gets when they receive a letter in the mail from a loved one. And this ability to keep people connected on that personal level is one reason why the USPS is so darn important.
And let’s not forget, by and large, every American counts on the Postal Service for a need of some sort, even more so right now. There are many other reasons why the USPS is so important to our society, many of which most do not think about.
- To those people who reside in rural communities, with little to no access to broadband internet, the USPS is an absolute lifeline. Small businesses in these communities rely 100% on the delivery of their mail. They have no other choices for deliveries, as private companies can determine where they deliver and ignore locations that are not cost effective. The USPS, however, has a “universal service obligation” to deliver everywhere.
- The USPS provides delivery service to housebound Americans by delivering much-needed medication six days a week. This not only is a service to the individuals, but it assists the mail order supply companies by not having to use more expensive overnight delivery services to support their customers.
- The USPS plays a huge role in our economic structure. There are more than 8.5 million people who are employed within the mailing and shipping industry. This is an industry that supports our economy in $1 trillion in revenue.
- Private companies also use the USPS. Very often the “last leg” of the delivery chain is managed by the USPS. Private carriers regularly “hand off” to the USPS, who then completes the delivery.
- Almost all businesses, in some manner, rely on the USPS. From large corporations to the small Mom and Pop companies, they rely on the USPS for advertising, billing, and goods.
- While many companies and organizations have taken steps to go paperless, there are still many businesses that are only offered by mail. Think about greeting card companies and those still wanting to read their favorite magazine or catalog in print.
- For small towns, the post office is sometimes the hub of the community. It is fairly common to find bulletin boards advertising events and services supporting the community inside the post office.
To make matters worse, even the ability to just deliver the mail is at risk because those iconic delivery trucks, now more than 30 years old, are too dangerous to drive. A recent report shared that hundreds of these 30-year-old trucks have caught fire in recent years. And yet several of the postal workers interviewed for the article admitted to risking their lives trying to save as much mail as they could from burning! Talk about dedication and resilience. Our postal workers deserve better!
I think we can all agree that at a minimum, the U.S. Postal Service needs help from Congress, and it needs it now. But beyond that, I believe the USPS needs people like us to stand with it, and to stand against using it as a political bargaining chip. It’s too important to maintaining our way of life and community, and continuity is really critical right now, especially since this pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon. But for so many people, like my sister, and for so many nonprofits and small businesses, the USPS is an essential service, key to staying connected with others and key to their survival.