In a twist of fate and odd timing during the coronavirus pandemic, the United States Postal Service has managed to demonstrate through its inefficiencies its value.
That’s right. Residents across the U.S. are clamoring for mail delivery from the independent, federal agency that has been trying to prove its relevance for nearly two decades.
Since the pandemic hit U.S. shores last year, mail service has been slower and, in some cases, halted altogether due to USPS staff shortages and an overwhelming spike in the need for delivered goods.
At four post offices on the south and southwest sides of Chicago, mail delivery has gotten so far behind, residents are getting desperate for their medications; they’re late paying their bills; and some are still waiting for Christmas presents.
It’s frustrating for anyone who relies on snail mail for the essentials.
Post office failures have drawn rebuke from Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., and others whose unhappy constituents are lighting up their phone lines.
But in an odd way, the Postal Service stumbles have highlighted the need for the post office, a relic that has been struggling to stay relevant in our increasingly digital world of online bill paying, Facebook messaging and online banking options.
Who needs to send a check through the mail when you’ve got Venmo?
But millions of people still rely on the post office to communicate with loved ones and to receive prescriptions, employment checks and important documents– in addition to the piles of advertisements and solicitations.
The outcry from residents here and far, some standing in long lines in frigid temperatures, demonstrate its relevance.
This is a moment for the post office not to step back, but to get from Congress what it needs to be more efficient: flexibility.
Ten years ago as it became obvious fewer people were buying stamps and using first class mail services, the Postal Service begged Congress to let it be more limber.
USPS is largely a selffunded agency.
In 2011, as it looked at its balance sheet, the Postal Service considered eliminating overnight delivery; reducing the number of underused post offices and partnering with stores instead; and getting rid of Saturday deliveries.
Congress said no– including Durbin and others who put up roadblocks to several cost-saving ideas identified by USPS.
The Postal Service must adapt to our new high-tech world, and it’s now up to Congress to come up with a plan.
“In the Senate, I believe we are close to finding a comprehensive plan that will save jobs, cut costs and still maintain one of the best postal services in the world,” Durbin said in 2012.
But Congress did not come up with a plan, at least not one that worked.
The Postal Service continued to lurch, long before the coronavirus illuminated more clearly its inefficiencies.
From Bloomberg columnist Joe Nocera in 2018: “One way the Postal Service hoped to save money was by ending Saturday delivery. Congress said no.
“At a time when it was losing billions in 2011 and 2012, it proposed closing rural post offices and moving mail delivery to local stores. Congress said no.
“A few years ago, the Postal Service suggested offering banking services, especially to people of moderate means. Congress said no.
“It suggested a series of other proposals to move into other lines of business. This is something postal services in Europe have done with great success. Congress said no.”
Lending federal (taxpayer) money to an inefficient postal service is not the answer. Flexibility is.
Now is the time to leverage the demand from consumers and get congressional mandates off the back of USPS.
To make the service better– not with more money but with flexibility. On that question, Congress needs to say yes.–Chicago Tribune