Slowing down USPS service isn’t a good plan

Published 5:33 pm Friday, October 15, 2021

The 90’s television series “Stargate SG-1” tells the story of a secret military facility, run by the United States Air Force, which sends teams to explore different planets and protect earth from any evil forces wishing to invade. There’s an episode in season one where the facility comes under scrutiny from a senator who isn’t happy about how much money is being spent on the secret program.

Col. Jack O’Neill, the main character of the series, makes a snarky joke that perhaps the government could try having a bake sale, yard sale, or a carwash fundraiser if funding is such a concern. (No one took him up on his suggestion.)

That joke has always made me chuckle because sometimes I wonder the exact same thing! But even though the idea of our senators and representatives setting up a bake sale on the steps of Congress like a bunch of middle school students is very funny to imagine, I’m sure it wouldn’t raise as much money as needed.

There has been much discussion in national news lately about the federal government and its spending habits, but I’ve been much more interested recently in the financial situation of the US Postal Service (USPS). In case you’ve missed it, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and the Postal Service Board of Governors have projected the USPS will lose $160 billion over the next decade, due in part to a decline in mail being sent as well as a mandate to pre-fund retiree health-care costs.

According to reporting from CBS News, DeJoy’s 10-year plan to cut losses is an overhaul of the public service to include raising prices and slowing down some mail deliveries.

That plan is already being implemented. The price of stamps recently jumped up from $0.55 to $0.58. And on Oct. 1, the “slowdown” began, meaning that the time it takes for first-class mail to get to its destination will be anywhere from two to five days (instead of the previous two to three days.) According to reporting from The Washington Post, local deliveries won’t really be affected. The biggest impact will be on mail sent long distance, such as from one coast to the other.

That’s because DeJoy’s cost-saving plan means they’ll focus more on ground deliveries instead of air.

None of the reporting from various news sources I read, however, detailed the numbers for projected savings by switching delivery methods. Though the Government Executive, an online news daily based in Washington, DC, did share details of the Postal Regulatory Commission’s (PRC) review of the proposal. (PRC is an independent federal agency that USPS operations. They can give recommendations on USPS proposals, such as the cost-saving plan in question.)

Essentially, while PRC didn’t say no to the plan, they were skeptical of the amount of savings it would actually create.

“The commission finds that the amount of estimated annual cost savings, even if fully realized, does not indicate much improvement, if any, to the Postal Service’s current financial condition. It is not clear that the tradeoff between financial viability and maintaining high-quality service standards is reasonable,” noted PRC in its opinion on the proposal.

They also noted that USPS didn’t even pilot test the proposed changes before they decided to implement them.

In response to DeJoy’s 10-year plan, 20 state attorney generals (including Josh Stein of North Carolina) filed a complaint with PRC, asking the agency to do a full review of the plan and allow the public an opportunity to provide comment.

“The Postal Service is an essential government service, and it cannot restructure without considering how those changes will affect millions of Americans,” Stein said in a press release last week.

In my own opinion, I lean towards PRC’s and Stein’s arguments. It doesn’t seem logical to me that raising prices and making their service less efficient would make things any better for USPS in the long run. It might create short-term savings, but it also might just make people more frustrated and reluctant to use the post office. And I believe the post office is a public service we need to keep.

While many people have turned to sending and paying bills online, that’s not an option for everyone, especially those in rural areas (like our own) with sparse and unreliable internet access. And we get many more things in the mail than just bills. Many people without the ability to travel to a pharmacy get their medicines delivered by USPS, for example. And without the post office, how would we send each other thank you cards, wedding invitations, birthday cards, Christmas cards, and a multitude of other items?

Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I enjoy opening my mailbox to find a card inside.

Even this very newspaper gets delivered to our subscribers through the USPS.

An article from Vox published last year noted that the loss of the postal service would hit rural Americans the hardest. It would be more difficult to mail in your ballot for an election if you choose that voting method. It would be more inconvenient to send your mail by a courier service like FedEx or UPS because there aren’t drop-off centers located in every small town. And of course, those services are much more costly to use than USPS (for now at least), and even they sometimes rely on USPS to deliver to the most remote locations!

Why must rural Americans, like us, always suffer the most by these kinds of decisions? Who will speak up on our behalf and take our needs into account?

To be fair, DeJoy’s and the Board of Governor’s 10-year plan is one that attempts to fix a system in trouble. The ground delivery method definitely sounds like something a former logistics trucking company CEO would come up with. (That’s what DeJoy did before being appointed as Postmaster General.)

But I think the people in charge of the USPS need to start thinking more outside the box for a more useful way to save money instead. Because, right now, it sounds like the current plan is about as effective as the government holding a bake sale fundraiser.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.