As USPS Becomes Political Flash Point, Small Businesses and the Sick Suffer

The United States Postal Service (USPS) has become embroiled in a partisan political struggle over mail-in ballots for the 2020 presidential election. However, the recent struggles of the USPS may not only potentially put mail-in voting in jeopardy, but have already begun hurting many that depend on it, particularly small businesses and those who depend on timely medication deliveries.

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is in the middle of a political tug-of-war, with U.S. President Donald Trump repeatedly insisting that using mail-in ballots during the 2020 U.S. presidential election will lead to voter fraud, claims debunked by various sources and documented by CNN’s fact-checking team. Opposition groups argue that President Trump and the USPS’ top ranking officer, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, the first Postmaster General to not have risen internally through the ranks of the USPS since Nixon’s 1970 reform of the position, are intentionally gutting the USPS in order to hamper mail-in voting procedures. 

DeJoy is now coming under fire after enacting a variety of structural changes, including the removal of mail sorting machines, cuts to overtime work, reshuffling of top agency executives, and reduced post office hours — in the name of cutting costs. Others are questioning why DeJoy has been allowed to retain investments in competitors to the USPS and continue to make donations to Republican political campaigns. 

Since the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, the USPS has been restricted by price caps on many offerings and was also required to “pre-pay $5.4 to $5.8 billion every year through 2017 to a future retirees’ health benefits fund”, in the USPS’ own words. The significance of these burdens cannot be overstated: in 2006, the year the law was introduced, the USPS turned a net profit of $900 million; in 2009, a net loss just shy of $3.8B; last year in 2019, that net loss exceeded $8.8B. 

While DeJoy has agreed to not make any further changes until after the presidential election and the House of Representatives has passed a measure providing $25B in stimulus for the USPS while rolling back said changes that DeJoy implemented, the Senate is unlikely to pass the measure. DeJoy has also stated the USPS will not be replacing any mail collection boxes or sorting machines already removed. Meanwhile, communities and businesses that rely on the USPS are already feeling the impact of the slowdown in service. 

Small businesses are feeling the squeeze of the pandemic even harder now that e-commerce orders, which have risen due to the dangers of in-person shopping, are becoming unreliable, causing refunds, excessive shipping times, and more losses on already hard-hit organizations. One small business owner interviewed by the L.A. Times said, “packages [from Oakland] bound for L.A. that once took a day to get to customers were now taking more than a week to arrive.” And on /r/flipping, an online community of almost 180,000 users dedicated to reselling products at a profit (“flipping”), one user described the situation: “This is really bad for sellers. Items are stuck for days and people are pissed off. [This is] terrible for thousands of small businesses.”

And vital, often time-sensitive medication delivery across the country is struggling to make it to the people who need it. In a telling statement, the nonprofit group Disabled American Veterans (DAV) had the following to say: 

“The VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) has now confirmed to us that the United States Postal Service (USPS), which is responsible for delivering about 90% of all VA mail-order prescriptions, has indeed been delayed in delivering these critical medications by an average of almost 25% over the past year, with many locations experiencing much more significant delays. To help mitigate these postal delays, the VA has been forced to switch to alternative delivery services in a number of areas across the country and is taking other actions to expedite the processing and delivery of prescriptions.” 
The situation is still developing, with DeJoy facing House and Senate committee hearings next week and Congress reconvening to discuss a cash infusion to prop up the USPS in order to maintain stability for mail-in voting. In the meantime, vulnerable groups that rely on the USPS remain in limbo. The DAV statement summarized the USPS’ current state in a sobering line, declaring that “it is simply unacceptable that America’s veterans, particularly those who were injured or made ill in defense of this country, should face the prospect of not receiving necessary medications in a timely manner considering such delays can be the difference between health and sickness, or even worse.”

This article was written by Christopher Nelson currently based in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA. Please reach out the author via cn1168@nyu.edu.

Photo: Matt Rourke / AP

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