“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” These words have long been associated with the American Postal Worker. Though not an official creed or motto of the United States Postal Service, the Postal Service acknowledges it as an informal motto.
In the very earliest of day, before the United States was its own nation, long before the internet or telephones and multitudes of methods for instantaneous communication over vast distances, the connective of the American colonies was the mail which was transported by horseback riders on the rough-hewn roads between cities and towns. The safe, efficient delivery of the mail was critical to the colonies’ survival, which is why three months after the battles of Lexington and Concord, the Continental Congress turned to Benjamin Franklin to establish a national post service as the first Postmaster General.
The postal service was a mess when Philadelphia’s 47-year-old Benjamin Franklin took the helm. At that time, it was run under the crown as a moneymaking venture for Britain. For years, it ran a deficit, and Franklin realized the best way to turn a profit was to improve services instead of gutting them. Ironic isn’t it that the future Founding Father — a statesman, scientist, and shrewd businessman — believed in efficiency and innovation. Historians by and large believe he would have been alarmed at the more recent attempts to slash operations of one of the nation’s founding institutions.
So, let’s fast forward to January 18 this year, when a federal crisis-response service launched and anyone with a fixed address in the United States or its territories could go to CovidTests.gov and order four tests sent for free to their home. The initiative may have come weeks too late to help contain the omicron surge, but at last, free rapid testing by mail is finally available in the U.S.
As it turns out, that inviting website is really just a splash page for the United States Postal Service (USPS), one of our nation’s first public institutions, founded for the sake of public good, and yet, in recent times, one that has been systematically dismantled. And now, in the third year of this pandemic, the Covid-19 response is being foisted upon critical public institutions that have been underfunded or tampered with for decades.
It’s counterintuitive that some of our most essential institutions that might have remained stable during a crisis have been stripped to where they can barely function, and yet still leaned on as if whole and robust. Even before the prior administration admittedly was starving the agency to make it harder to vote by mail, USPS has been besieged by challenges. To no small extent, the problem is that the office is made to operate differently from any other public institutions.
Trying to provide world-class service like the USPS by making its money off the sale of postage and services instead of relying on taxpayer funds, as do all other public services we enjoy, is insane.
One can point to 2006, when Congress passed a law requiring the post office to prefund health care benefits for retiring employees, as that moment, and the financial burden that created, for the financial situation the USPS is in now.
With the advent of a new administration in 2021, attention on the USPS crisis slowed, but the office continues to struggle under the strain of the remnants of so many destructive policies, compounded by this pandemic. Just a few months ago, the postal service announced it was slowing down its mail delivery for some letters and packages; staffing shortages that have roiled other industries have overburdened postal employees, who work as many as 80 hours a week, have caused additional delays.
It might be less frustrating if it weren’t all so predictable. Rural Americans have reported delays and losses, significantly impacting their livelihoods. Essential government communications such as stimulus checks and advanced child tax credits, delayed and lost, and all because an essential public utility all of us and the government rely on to fulfill basic functions has been willfully neglected.
Let me conclude by asking this: If I had a letter, and I gave it to you, then demanded that you take it to the most remote corner of the planet, find a specific location, no matter how difficult the terrain, or harsh the weather, and safely deliver that letter to a specific individual, all for $.58, would you be able to do it? Yet that is what we ask the USPS to do millions of time each and every day.
So, as we all sit in our nice warm homes on this brutally cold winter morning, let’s remember the Sisters and Brothers who are out there now…doing it…getting it done…even while their good work is kneecapped and handcuffed. The USPS is a mission-critical system, a necessary government service, and the good, noble, dedicated women and men who carry out that service each and every day, are doing their level best, under willfully burdensome and unnecessarily onerous circumstances. Remember that if your package is a little late, or your mail doesn’t arrive as you wish. It isn’t becasue of the hard-working women and men of the USPS. Stand strong with our Sisters and Brothers and support the USPS!