What’s Going On With the Postal Service?

An already struggling institution battles the pandemic and partisan politics

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Stolen mailboxes, weeks-late mail, massive underfunding, and accusations of sabotage are just a few of the plights the United States Postal Service (USPS) is facing at the moment—along with pressures of a pandemic and the 2020 election. Even if you follow the news closely, it’s difficult to parse out exactly what’s happening at one of the most well respected government agencies. Below, we’ve outlined what you need to know about USPS and why you should follow the ongoing fallout.

New Leadership

At the beginning of the summer, the Postal Service Board of Governors appointed a new postmaster general of the USPS. Louis DeJoy, who also took over as the organization’s first CEO, has implemented striking new standards for the agency. Upon entering his role, DeJoy has overseen cuts for all overtime work, limited delivery trips, frozen hiring, reassigned more than 20 executives, and requested volunteers for early retirement. It’s clear that DeJoy’s motive has been to downsize where he can while trying to save efficiency.

These changes, many argue, are responsible for sending the USPS into extreme mismanagement and confusion while the pandemic and 2020 election continue on. DeJoy’s political past and connections to President Trump have also been a target for many critics, as has his wife’s assets in competitors to the USPS, such as UPS.  

Lack of Funding

The USPS has long been plagued by controversy and underfunding as it has struggled to simultaneously maintain a business model to compete in the marketplace and serve Americans. The agency has consistently lost billions of dollars each quarter for the past year, and in a statement, the USPS said that even Congressional relief funds of $10 billion would “not address the Postal Service’s broken business model.” Complications from the pandemic have meant further unforeseen circumstances: less first-class mail, sick workers, and extra spending needed for PPE. 

On August 13 on Fox Business, President Trump admitted to withholding funds from the USPS, claiming that a mail-in election would be more vulnerable to fraud: “They need that money in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots, but if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it.”

Mysterious Incidents

Perhaps one of the most shocking developments in the USPS debacle is the rise in apparent crimes. Reports from Minneapolis have detailed stolen mailboxes. While a connection to the 2020 election has not been proven, the thefts have made some people concerned as the number of mail-in ballots is seven times greater than the number cast in the 2018 primaries in the city. 

It also took over nine days for mail to be delivered to the Charles Horn Towers housing complex in Minneapolis. The majority of people living in the building are elderly, low-income, or at high-risk for COVID-19, making the burden of prescription drug access and bill payments much riskier. USPS officials have made note that they are taking all concerning reports seriously, though similar events seem to be featured more frequently across the country.

Simultaneously, and without notice or explanation, post offices around the US are beginning to remove mail sorting machines—the kind of equipment that stacks and identifies mail to be moved more efficiently. So far, the consequences have been varied depending on the post office, but mail sorting machines have sometimes been used to expedite mail in an election, adding concern as November looms.  

Political Tension

Since DeJoy’s placement in the role of postmaster general in June, criticism has been fervent due to his lack of experience with the organization (he’s the first postmaster general in two decades to not have worked at the USPS prior) and the subsequent disarray the agency has faced since he began his tenure. Warranted or not, some democrats have also found issues with DeJoy’s history as a Republican donor; in the past, he has donated more than $1.5 million to Trump’s campaigns. (While President Trump didn’t appoint DeJoy, all of the members of the Postal Service Board of Governors were selected by the president.) 

Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar have authored a letter questioning DeJoy’s changes and calling on the inspector general of the Postal Service to investigate him. 

Democrats continue to advocate for boosts to the USPS in stimulus packages, while the Republican National Committee has spent more than $20 million in legal efforts to limit voting by mail in battleground states—including Minnesota. States can change their own voting by mail laws, which has created space for lawsuits that the Trump campaign has brought against state and local governments across the country.

Accessible mail is an important service. It fosters equity, safety, and comfort for millions of Americans. According to the American Postal Workers Union, to support the USPS, people can tell their Congress members to support its economic relief; back in April, there was also a wave of people buying stamps to give the organization money. Conflict is rampant right now, but don’t let that distract you from keeping up to date with what’s happening with the USPS. After all, as its website says, “The U.S. Postal Service is the only delivery service that reaches every address in the nation: 160 million residences, businesses, and post office boxes.”

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