The United States Postal Service is an essential service for millions of Americans, but it's currently experiencing a tough financial situation, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, people have experienced slow mail delivery times and increased service disruptions.
Last week, President Trump announced that he would block a $25 billion emergency funding bill to help maintain the USPS. Trump explicitly said that he would not approve the grant to sabotage mail-in voting. After public outcry and condemnation from politicians on both sides of the aisle, he took back his comments and said he would agree to sign a bill that included funding. Despite this, many are still worried about the future of mail-in ballots and whether they will arrive at the voter’s house or their local Board of Elections on time to be counted.
It's not just voting that makes the USPS extremely important to Americans all over the world. The Postal Service delivers medication and essential documents, and is a cheaper alternative to privatized shipping services. Many rural areas depend on the USPS, as private companies often will not make the trek to their communities. The Postal Service is an essential part of day-to-day life — not just for sending your latest Etsy purchase, but for maintaining democracy.
How is the USPS funded?
While the USPS is a government agency, it runs differently than many others. The Postal Service does not run off of taxpayer money, but instead funds itself completely off of the revenue it makes from mail and package delivery.
In the digital age, package delivery has become increasingly important. Many online companies, such as Amazon, utilize the Postal Service for “last mile” shipping to rural or remote locations. It’s very likely that you’ve received a package from a company that actually was transported by the USPS.
However, as the Postal Service’s package delivery service increased, its own first-class mail service has declined significantly. While packaging has made up for much of that lost revenue, the USPS’ annual net losses doubled to $8.8 billion in 2019. Currently, it has $160 billion in unpaid liabilities, and its expenses were exceeding revenues even before the pandemic.
If action is not taken, the Postal Service projects that it will completely run out of money by April 2021 if it continues to ship packages at pre-pandemic levels. It can remain afloat until October 2021 if the package volume continues at 15% to 20% above pre-pandemic levels.
How has COVID-19 impacted the USPS?
With many businesses shut down and people not willing to leave their houses for non-essential activities, the amount of mail being sent has further pushed the USPS into a dire financial crisis. In its third quarter this year, the Postal Service reported $2.2 billion in losses.
Due to the pandemic, many have called for the expansion of mail-in ballots. Trump has firmly rejected this proposition. Previously, he refused to sign the stimulus package if it helped the Postal Service during this time. There is no evidence that mail-in voting leads to increased voter fraud.
With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2020
While the CARES Act allowed the Postal Service more flexibility to borrow money from the government, it did not extend any government funding or debt forgiveness for what the USPS already owes.
What about the USPS and the election?
In June, the Postal Service Board of Governors appointed shipping executive and major Trump campaign donor, Louis DeJoy, to the position of postmaster general. DeJoy had no previous experience working for the Postal Service.
Since he began the position, DeJoy implemented overtime changes and as a result, mail has seen a delay in 19 states. Some local offices have seen the removal of their sorting machines, further slowing down the service. When speaking to the Board of Governors, DeJoy ensured that his top priority was making sure mail was quickly delivered. However, he also threatened to take aggressive measures to cut costs.
In a statement on Friday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer condemned DeJoy and called on him to "quickly reverse his operational changes that have led to delays and service reductions for too many Americans and threaten to undermine our democracy."
USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy issued the following statement today.
— U.S. Postal Service (@USPS) August 18, 2020
The Inspector-General of the Postal Service has already opened investigations into DeJoy’s financial conflicts and the new changes he implemented in order to “cut costs.” Some of these changes include limiting the amount of mail that mail carriers can deliver — resulting in undelivered mail being left at distribution centers — and minimizing the number of processing machines from local post offices. These machines are often used to sort ballots and make sure they are properly delivered to one’s local Board of Elections on time.
Moreover, the Postal Service now advises elections officials to switch their previous rate of 20 cents per envelope to the standard 55 cents per envelope. Then, the mail can be certified as first-class and can be delivered faster. However, many local governments do not have the money to support these increases.
What does it mean for my vote?
As a result of the pandemic, many states have increased the accessibility of mail-in voting. However, the delays from the Postal Service have made many frightened that their ballots will not be received on time. According to the agency, they do not expect this to be the case.
"On any given day, the Postal Service delivers more than 425 million pieces of mail, and our best estimates are that election mail will account for less than 2% of all mail volume from mid-September until Election Day," Postal Service executives David Williams and Thomas Marshall told USA Today. "Given our available processing capacity, we can easily handle the anticipated increase in election mail due to the COVID-19 pandemic, without impact to on-time performance."
However, the Postal Service still has experienced major delays, and it’s important to make sure that your ballot is in on time. The USPS has warned 46 states that mail-in ballots could be delayed. This risk multiplies for the 32 states that allow voters to request a ballot within a week of an election.
For voters who plan to vote by mail, the Postal Service recommends that you should give your ballot at least 15 days to make sure it is officially counted. You should always request your absentee ballot as early as possible. You can also return your ballot to your local elections office in most states. In some states, there are also secure ballot drop boxes in towns, so that you can avoid the poll booth and the post office entirely.