Better World

Here’s What Could Happen To Families If the USPS Shuts Down

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Recent changes instituted by the new Postmaster General of the US Post Service, Louis DeJoy, cut overtime, late delivery trips, Post Office hours, and other expenses, resulting in delayed delivery times across the country. Some customers have even received misleading notifications saying their packages and mail are being held at a post office “at the request of the customer,” when no such instruction has taken place. This has prompted some families to drive or walk to their nearest post office only to learn that their packages are en route to be delivered the next day. 

Meanwhile, other people have been going several days or weeks with no mail delivery at all. “We haven’t been receiving any mail at the house for like two weeks now,” Kasandra Peros, a resident of Dundalk, Maryland, told her local news station as she visited her local post office to check on the status of her missing unemployment debit card. “Bills aren’t getting paid. My car insurance has been due. I got bills that need to be paid, and I can’t pay them because I can’t get my mail.”

Some of the new policies have since been temporarily suspended, but many of the other recent moves by DeJoy that have negatively impacted delivery, such as removal of hundreds of mail sorting machines and letter collection boxes, cannot be undone. With so much uncertainty plaguing one of our country’s most beloved and necessary agencies, officials in Washington are duking it out over the future of the USPS, all while many families are left paying the price. 

From paychecks and child support payments to groceries and medicine, an incredible number of vital deliveries come through the U.S. mail system, so when it slows, it can have huge repercussions for families. For example, one estimate showed that the USPS was responsible for 100 million prescription deliveries (half the total volume) last year—and that was before March, when mail order for prescriptions rose by 20 percent due to the pandemic. For many parents and kids, missing even one dose of a medication can have dire consequences. From keeping up with a child’s medical treatments to the ability to put freshly delivered food on the table, the postal service is an essential service.

For some Black families, in particular, the uncertainty surrounding the future of the USPS is even more unnerving. That’s because about 25 percent of postal workers are Black, which means the agency’s very existence is how many of them feed their families. When the USPS shrinks, those opportunities shrink, too.

For families who live in small towns, rural areas, and other zip codes where private carriers simply don’t exist because it’s not profitable, the USPS is a lifeline. Despite its soaring popularity and profits since the pandemic began, Amazon doesn’t deliver everywhere—but the USPS is required to, which means there are places throughout the country where without the mail service, nothing ever gets delivered. In fact, Amazon relies on the USPS to deliver in many places where it chooses not to invest. A report by financial firm Morgan Stanley last year found that Amazon chooses the country’s densest ZIP codes to do business, leaving the rest and more expensive routes, often called “the last mile routes” because they’re the crucial final leg of a package’s journey, to the postal service.

In many areas of the country the post office also serves as a community hub. It’s an important link to neighbors, local news, and activities, especially in places that lack basic broadband.

With so many American families already dealing with hardships related to the pandemic, the negative impacts of slow mail service are making an already difficult time even harder to handle. If you’re having trouble receiving mail, the USPS Office of the Inspector General offers tips for tracking down missing items, and instructions for filing claims or complaints.

The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.