Of the many modes of communication available to Americans today (beyond simply talking to one another), there’s one we all of have in common: the mail. The United States Postal Service delivers to every address in the country in each of the nearly 42,000 ZIP codes. The 1970 legislation establishing the independent agency states that it “shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the Government of the United States, authorized by the Constitution, created by Act of Congress, and supported by the people.”
It continues, “The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary and business correspondence of the people.”
Basic it is in an age of electronic billing and banking, email, teleconferencing and messaging apps, but the mail remains an essential service. Just ask the many Americans, including more than 330,000 veterans each weekday, whose prescriptions are delivered to their mailboxes. Or the businesses that bill and receive payments by mail. Or the workers who receive their paychecks and file taxes by mail. Or this newspaper and many others that rely on the Postal Service to deliver the news to print subscribers.
And then there is mail-in voting, more critical than ever during a pandemic and more controversial than ever this election cycle.
As the Postal Service’s ability to efficiently deliver ballots to polling places and prevent fraud in November is called into question, the agency is simultaneously being squeezed financially. Reduced mail volume, cost-cutting measures and a uniquely burdensome mandate to fund retiree health care costs 75 years into the future have strained the agency in recent years.
The Portland Press Herald reports that post offices across the country have cut back on hours. Postal workers have been prohibited from working overtime, even when that is what is required to get the mail out on time. A complaint filed with the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General alleges that the Portland postmaster prioritizes Amazon packages over other mail.
Under the guise of pushing for financial solvency, it might be death by a thousand cuts for the Postal Service. The prospect of privatizing the service does not bode well for rural Mainers. With a small, geographically spread–out population, delivering the mail here is unlikely to be a profitable endeavor. Now is the time to be shoring up this critical public service, not crippling it.
Neither rain nor sleet, pandemic nor political posturing, should delay or diminish the United States Postal Service.