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Monday, September 21, 2020

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The Morning Story

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How The Post Office Became A Political Football 

ILLUSTRATION BY EMILY SCHERER / GETTY IMAGES

The post office can’t catch a break. Over the summer, operational changes implemented by the U.S. Postal Service’s new postmaster general raised concerns about mail delays. This prompted congressional investigations, lawsuits, a lot of political rhetoric, and even more public worry about whether the disruptions pose a threat to what will likely be the most mail-reliant election in history.

But the Postal Service isn’t struggling merely because of one new postmaster general’s changes — decades of events out of its control have positioned the agency to be particularly vulnerable when crisis struck.

2020 has seen little but crisis. COVID-19 changed a lot of things about everyday life, including how Americans use the post office. Between March and July, the volume of first-class mail like letters, bills and legal documents dropped off a cliff as businesses sought to cut expenses. At the same time, people isolating at home started ordering necessities (and non-necessities) online at a staggering rate. While overall mail volume was lower during the spring and summer compared to the same time last year, the volume of packages surged. In June, 71 percent more packaging was sent than in the year prior.

“We are at holiday levels of mail,” said one mailcarrier, who asked not to be named because USPS employees have been advised not to speak to the media. “Everybody is stuck at home and they’re ordering online, either because they can’t leave the house or the local merchant isn’t open. I personally deliver several hundred Amazon packages a day.”

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