THE MAIL BOX – “Hello, Mister Mailman,” I say, waving as he walks towards me. “You’ve got mail,” he says. It is 110 degrees, sweat is pouring down his face, but he still smiles. Six days a week I come here to my front porch and deal with the one form of the federal government that rarely lets me down: the post office, or more officially, the United States Postal Service, a title most of us don’t use. My quota of junk mail, bills and occasional ransom note is part of the more than 425 million pieces of mail the USPS delivers on any given day. But one envelope I will be looking for in a couple of weeks may not arrive on time, if at all: My ballot for the Presidential election.
As Bill McKibben reported in the New Yorker, “It’s by now pretty obvious that the Trump Administration is attempting to sabotage mail delivery in order to cast some kind of shadow over the November election.” McKibben notes that Donald Trump’s newly installed Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, who gave more than $2 million to the Trump campaign and other Republican causes since 2016, has eliminated all overtime. A memo to employees declares that, as a result, “if we cannot deliver all the mail due to call offs or shortage of people and you have no other help, the mail will not go out.” DeJoy wiped out decades of experience in the postal service by reassigning or outright firing 23 top executives. The USPS almost tripled the postage for mailing ballots to voters. Several hundred sorting machines, which can process 35,000 pieces of mail per hour, were removed, as were hundreds of collection boxes. Then DeJoy stopped – temporarily.
Trump says, “The Postal Service is a joke.” He opposed efforts by Democrats to allocate more funds for the USPS, explaining, “They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. If they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.” (Trump and his wife voted by mail in the Florida primaries.) An analysis found that in primaries held in 2020, at least 65,000 absentee or mail-in ballots were rejected throughout the country because they arrived past deadline, even if mailed with plenty of time by voters.
I ask Mister Mailman about the changes. “No, things are going along the same, except that mail is piling up at the post office. That’s the one in Baytown. They closed ours due too many letters. We’ve had to rent a warehouse to store the overflow. People used to call our service ‘snail mail.’ Now they call us ‘glacier racers.’ And my check is ‘in the mail.’ We are not to deliver mail to addresses don’t have a ‘Trump in 2020’ sign in the yard. Otherwise, no change.”
A bit of background: Our postal service is actually older than the U.S. itself. Benjamin Franklin (who else?) was appointed by the British as postmaster of Philadelphia. He was paid a 10 percent commission on customers’ postage, but Franklin had franking privileges, (no that’s not eponymous), so he could mail his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, to readers at no cost. Franklin turned the paper into one of the colonies’ most successful publications. The Brits appointed him joint postmaster for all 13 colonies. In July 1775 the Continental Congress ask him to become Postmaster General at a salary of $1,000 — about $33,500 in today’s dollars. (The U.S. Constitution specifically empowers Congress to “establish Post Offices and Post Roads.”)
Today Ben’s postal service has grown:
- It delivered 143 billion pieces of mail to 160 million addresses in 2019.
- It had $71.1 billion in operating revenue in 2019.
- There were 496,934 career employees in 2019. The non-career employees: 136,174.
- If the more than 141,900 blue collection boxes currently in use by the Postal Service were placed side-by-side, they would stretch for 58 miles. Those boxes weren’t always blue. Before 1971, they could have been green, red, white or other colors.
- The Postal Service purchased nearly 579,000 tires in 2019. Stacked end-to-end, they would be 244 miles — the distance between Dallas and Houston.
- It ordered more than 750 million rubber bands in 2019, totaling about 41,096 miles of rubber bands that could wrap around Earth 1.7 times.
- In 2019, the Postal Service received $291.8 million in revenue from 2,733 postal self-service kiosks.
- Every two weeks, the Postal Service pays $2 billion in salaries and benefits.
- Almost half of the world’s mail volume, 48 percent, is handled by the Postal Service. If it were a private sector company, it would rank 44th in the 2019 Fortune 500.
- Email has certainly cut into first-class mail, but with one of the largest corporate email systems, the Postal Service handles more than 3.5 million legitimate emails a day delivered to more than 222,000 email accounts.
- Monthly more than 1.2 million email messages are blocked due to spam. More than 680,000 emails are blocked due to content. More than 10,500 malware messages are blocked.
- Americans like their Postal Service. It was ranked as the most favorable federal agency with a 91 percent approval rating while only 14 percent had an unfavorable view. This is better than next four: National Park Service, Center for Disease Control, NASA and the FBI.
- The Postal Service receives NO tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations. The funds Trump opposes are to handle mail-in ballots and cover the Covit-19 virus slump.
- Last year, Houston postal workers reported more dog attacks than any other U.S. city: 85. Those attacks were part of 5,803 attacks nationwide, which were down annually from nearly 6,000 in 2018.
Here comes Mister Mailman back, being chased by a pack of pit bulls. “I overlooked this one.” It’s a Christmas card.
Ashby gets mail at email@example.com