The USPS as we know it is broken. How do we fix it?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news: just because its now 2021, we can’t pretend that 2020 didn’t happen. While there are many issues that are in continued need to be addressed, today’s blog post has a singular focus: the United States Postal Service.

As a small business owner for over a decade, the USPS has been my “frenemy” for just as long. I get excited for new stamp releases, have had great working relationships with local postal employees, and genuinely believe that the USPS provides an important and equitable service to every citizen in the United States.

On the other hand, I have never seen an organization/business care so little about the customer service it provides. Yes, it is impressive that such a network of mail delivery exists for an affordable price. But citizens and businesses pay money for the USPS to make these deliveries- and if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain? Oh well, the USPS bears no responsibility and owes you no compensation for not completing the job you paid them to do.

In years prior, I’ve had orders go missing or be damaged, but never at the volume that I saw during holiday 2020. Exit343design had 100+ orders simply stuck with zero recourse. Stuck. All I want to do as a business owner is provide great products and service for my customers. How can I do that if the shipper I pay to do the job they promised rescinds the promise after my package is already in their system?

With the combination of Louis DeJoy, the pandemic, the election, and the holiday season, the cracks within the Postal System were exposed for all to see. I am here to say that these cracks will not be repaired if we, the people of the United States of America, don’t petition our elected officials to do something. If the USPS continues to exist as is, these cracks will continue to grow and there will be repercussions.

[ scroll to the end of this post for a simple letter to send to YOUR state government! ]

4 reasons I believe the USPS is an important service for United States:

  1.  We need mail for voting and things like shipping medications, filing taxes, etc

  2. Small business relies on the USPS to stay competitive against behemoths like Amazon, etc.

  3. The USPS is the one way we can connect with every person in the country. Unless Congress is willing to fund free Internet for everyone as a replacement, the USPS needs to continue.

  4. The USPS is an accessible and stable job option for those at all education levels.

Why is the USPS the way it is right now? A brief history.

For decades, the USPS operated as a subsidized government service. At least 25% of its operating expenses came from government appropriation. The structure of the USPS was built to provide its service to the entire country, not be a money-making machine.

In 1970, Nixon signed the Postal Reorganization Act, allowing for Postal unions to get full collective bargaining rights. However, with those rights, Congress decided that the “US Postal Department” would no longer be part of the Executive branch of the US; rather, it would be expected to perform all the same duties (delivery to EVERY address, 6 days a week), but as the Postal Service with expectations that it would run like a business. But oh, if you want to raise rates on anything, add a new service, or close a post office, you would need permission from Congress first. Huh?

 For years, this appeared to work. Then, along came the Internet in the early aughts. Postmaster John Potter saw the value in packages over letters and petitioned to let the USPS set their own package prices. In 2006, he got his wish in a new set of postal reforms- with two important caveats. One, the first class mail rate (the product with the best margins for the USPS) couldn’t increase past the rate of inflation. Second, (and this is a big one): the USPS had to pre-pay for the cost of its retirement health benefits for a full decade. So the USPS is expected to act like a business, but it can’t grow its most profitable product line AND it has to pre-pay a decade’s worth of debt?! That sounds like a recipe for bankruptcy . . . except the Postal Service legally cannot do such a thing.

The hosts of NPR’s Planet Money put it best: a solution can only come from the one place that started the problem in the first place: CONGRESS. It’s worth noting that two of the politicians responsible for this mess are still in office: Representative Danny K David of Illinois and Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

Sources: This episode of NPR’s Planet Money, this article from Barron’s, and some light Wikipedia-ing.

I’ve drafted a simple message to copy, paste, and send to the elected official in your state. I hope that you take the time to share and let your voice be heard by those chosen to represent YOU.

Use this tool to contact your State Representative and this tool to contact your State Senators.

Dear [Representative/Senator] ____________:

One of the many important issues that the COVID-19 crisis has exposed is the need for reform for the United States Postal Service. While 2006’s Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act and 1970’s Postal Reorganization Act may have seemed appropriate at their respective times, these two pieces of legislation have only hindered the ability of the USPS as we know it to uphold the level of service it was built to provide.

Everyday citizens, your constituents, suffer when the USPS is expected to operate as a business but is run as a government entity. It’s a messy situation to which there seem to be no winners.

The fact is that any solution to reform the USPS must come from the same place that created the problem in the first place: Congress. I implore you to consider United State Postal Service reform an important and bipartisan issue going forward. It is a public service for every citizen, while playing a critical role in contemporary small business, voting, paying taxes, and so much more.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

 [ your name here ]

Thank you to all who stopped by this blog post, learned a bit of history, and hopefully fired off some letters or emails to Congress! Small business owners everywhere thank you for your support and for using your voice.