USPS financial decline brings agency’s future, mail-in ballots into question

The United States Postal Office’s financial losses and mail delays have forced Americans to consider a future without the mail and package delivery system.


Becca Speier

Junior Audrey Flavin overlooks one of many post office centers in Kansas City, Missouri Aug. 27. The USPS has bound our nation together by maintaining the national mail delivery. photo by Becca Speier

by Sophia Rall, Features Editor

The United States Post Office has its roots in the very beginning of our nation, as Benjamin Franklin was declared the first Postmaster General in 1775. It evolved from a mail service between the American colonies to a newspaper delivery service to the service Americans know today — a package and mail delivery service. Throughout these changes, the USPS mission has remained the same: “to bind our nation together by maintaining and operating our unique, vital and resilient infrastructure.” 

However, the USPS has endured significant financial trouble lately, with its annual losses at 8.8 billion, according to Government Executive. These financial issues have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. With millions of Americans relying on the USPS for deliveries of prescription drugs, social security checks and vehicle registration, it begs the questions: why is the USPS struggling, and what can be done to help it? 

Social studies teacher Kathleen Daily attributes the USPS’ financial issues to poor policy making, namely the Post Office Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. This act required the Post Office to prefund retirement benefits for employees, up to 75 years in advance. According to Government Executive, of the $8.8 billion dollars the agency lost in 2019, 83% of that went to its retiree pension and retiree health benefits funds. 

The USPS has been losing money for a long time, and has not turned a profit since 2006, according to PBS. However, many Americans have grown concerned as its financial losses increased substantially this year. 

“The post office removes mail collection boxes every year,” Daily said. “But, we know that last year they removed 4,200 mail collection boxes, and that’s more than the national average of about 3,000.”

A common misconception about the USPS is that it is not used anymore. However, it delivered 143 billion pieces of mail to 160 million addresses in 2019, according to the USPS. Additionally, the USPS serves more than 46 million rural addresses— the only delivery service for much of rural America. Several STA students have utilized the service recently, such as junior Bella Avery.

“I‘ve used the USPS to send my uncle, in Oregon, packages,” Avery said. “Many people rely on it for our communication, bills, medication, correspondents, social security checks —which for some is their only source of income, especially today with many out of jobs due to the pandemic—and to send and receive packages.” 

Tens of millions of Americans are expected to use mail-in voting this November for the presidential election. In the primary elections held this year, at least 65,000 mail-in ballots were rejected because they arrived past the deadline, through no fault of the voter, according to NPR. With higher mail volumes and the USPS’ removal of thousands of collection boxes, Americans are left wondering if their vote will be counted. 

STA junior Kya Vulgamott believes mail-in ballots could be a huge factor in this year’s presidential election. 

“Because it’s election year, mail-in ballots will be a really big factor in that 4 years ago, there were 333 million mail-in ballots,” Vulgamott said. 

Daily mentioned the different reasons individuals might use mail-in and absentee ballots. 

“We have these mailing ballots and absentee ballots for years,” Daily said. “Our military uses it, and people with disabilities have historically used it. I did it when I was in college and when I didn’t live in Kansas City.”

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, appointed in June 2020, implemented several cost-cutting measures which cut overtime, reorganized the agency’s structure, and called for late-arriving mail to be delivered the next day, which has caused significant delays. He acknowledged that these changes have led to some delays, but said in an interview with The Washington Post that improvements are underway. He still encouraged Americans to vote early though, as a “common best sense practice.”

Daily emphasized that although DeJoy is a major GOP donor, the issue is still bipartisan.

 There’s no way to see when you mail in a vote whether it’s Democrat or Republican,” Daily said.  “So this is an issue of the people.”

Vulgamott also stressed that USPS delays or shutdowns could affect everyone. 

“If COVID continues the way that it is, eventually, [STA student] will need the USPS,” Vulgamott said. “Preparing for certain things is just necessary.”

Both Vulgamott and Avery have used Instagram to repost and comment on posts concerning the USPS. Vulgamott offered other ways to advocate, such as signing petitions or starting a petition. Avery offered more advocation ideas, specific to high school students. 

“[STA students] can help educate themselves and others on how to vote by mail if that is what they are planning to do,” Avery said. “They can call congress members and ask them to support the USPS and say that they won’t stand for what is happening today.”

Daily, like Vulgamott and Avery, emphasized the many uses and importance of the USPS. 

“I also think that the issues that we’re facing right now, with the absentee and mail-in voting, the people are saying that they want access,” Daily said. “And that’s historically been something that the people of the United States have always wanted. Are their voices heard and do they have access?”