Gone Postal

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Last Monday, we got a subscription renewal from a Lexington address. That letter, mailed First Class, arrived in our mailbox at the Lexington post office 13 days later. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in late mail over the past month or six weeks, which coincidentally, corresponds with directives from on high in the U.S. Postal Service to cut overtime and change standard procedures for processing mail and keeping it moving.

The pandemic has hit the Postal Service hard. First Class mail volume, the most profitable for the service, is down significantly. Package volume is up, but the margins are much thinner, contrary to what “some people” say. (Our president isn’t the only one who can use that one.) USPS was in trouble before COVID. It’s up to its neck in alligators now.

Regular readers know that I’ve written about the Postal Service quite a few times over the past couple of years. It’s a fact that the USPS is a critical part of the nation’s communications infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. The mailing industry, with some 7 million employees, depends on the Postal Service. Closer to home, our newspaper depends on the Postal Service to deliver 4,000 papers a week to our subscribers, two-thirds of our total circulation. Thousands of community newspapers, and an increasing number of smaller daily papers, also use the mail for newspaper delivery. Locally, it’s dependable and efficient.

But, in 200 post offices around the country several weeks ago, the Postal Service imposed what it calls an experiment, called Expedited to Street/ Afternoon Sortation, or ES/AS. What it does is to direct city route carriers to hit the streets with the mail already sorted when they arrive, and then to sort the morning mail in the afternoon after they’ve done their route. Previously, that morning mail would get sorted before and go out with the carrier. Result – a day’s delay in delivery of a portion of the mail.

The Postal Service made no effort to publicize this experiment. It came to light to us in the newspaper business because a paper in Mississippi was told by the local postmaster, erroneously it turned out, that the newspapers to local subscribers would be delayed a day – catastrophic to any paper. The paper mails its newspapers presorted to the carrier route, and bundled in the order that the carrier delivers, so they don’t need sorting. But Postal Service management did nothing to alert its customers to this change or provide guidance on local handling of this mail.

To add to the Postal Service’s burden, because of COVID, millions of Americans are expected to use the mail to vote in the fall elections. Regardless of one’s view of the possibility of vote fraud from voting by mail, miniscule according to both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state who administer the vote in the states, the number of people deciding to vote absentee this year is going to be many times the normal number. This could not come at a worse time for the USPS.

I’m not one for conspiracy theories, and I wouldn’t characterize this as such. But I find it troubling that we know that: 1. President Trump believes that the Postal Service gave Amazon, owned by his nemesis Jeff Bezos, a sweetheart deal on package delivery; 2. Under the CARES Act, the Postal Service was granted a $10 billion loan, that is being held up by the Treasury Department until USPS provides proprietary information on its ten largest negotiated service agreements, including the one with Amazon; 3. The USPS board of governors appointed this past May a man with no postal service experience, and a major donor to the Trump campaign to be postmaster general; 4. The president has stated repeatedly, with no basis in fact, that voting by mail will result in significant vote fraud; and 5. That within the past month, actions taken by USPS management have resulted in slower mail delivery, which could cause people to have less confidence in the Postal Service’s ability to deliver the mail within its own delivery time standards.

The U.S. Postal Service is too important to this country’s economy to be a political football. No one can argue that its business model needs an overhaul. I’ll even argue that the 1970 act that set up the USPS as a quasi-independent arm of the federal government, and self-funded through postage, is out of date and needs a hard look. But it should never be politicized or manipulated to benefit the incumbent administration. And I believe that this is happening.

The News-Gazette

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Lexington, VA 24450
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