If you’re a citizen or resident of the United States of America, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ve never used the US Postal Service (or USPS) at some point in your life. And as an election looms in these pandemic times, people are afraid of how the virus will spread while waiting in line and thus many citizens are preparing to vote by mail-in ballot come November 2020. But as easy as all of this sounds, there are currently massive political debates over both the funding, operation, and future of the long-beloved USPS.
The USPS has been around, well, basically since the beginning. The first Post Office department was founded in 1775 with Benjamin Franklin as the appointed Post Master. The Post Office is an agency of the executive branch of the US government protected in part by the constitution. The founding fathers established this as they firmly believed communication needed to be part of a successful country. This doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a bumpy road for the department though, facing reorganization acts in both 1872 and 1970, the current USPS is much different than its historical sister. As it stands today, the USPS is now simply an independent agency that benefits from numerous tax breaks while being funded with government (taxpayer) money.
Due to the changes in society, and the rise of privatized mail services, the USPS has been operating at a loss since the year 2001. Revenues have been at an all-time low leading the agency to begin a massive cash bleed which would only grow with each passing year. Post offices in more rural areas were subsequently closed, or drastically cut in hours. Overnight packages are no longer able to be delivered the next business day, but rather the day following. In 2013, it was announced that mail would not be delivered on Saturdays unless it was a package or medication (however this decision was reversed later). Despite their best intentions at cutting costs, none of these cuts has really saved, or made, the agency any money.
No matter how you look at it, the USPS is in trouble. They are set to run out of money sometime this year. And honestly, dumping more money into the USPS won’t fix the problem. Besides the rise of privatized services like UPS and FedEx, the age of the internet is upon us, and let’s be honest, it’s much easier to send messages via email than make a trip to the dreaded post office. Not only that, but the USPS is locked into a regulation where their prices must be the exact same at every location. Back in the day, this made sense, because the cost of living was pretty much the same everywhere in the US and there were many fewer states to deal with. As the US has grown, so has city living. So, while the post office may have to keep their certified letter charge to $3.55 for the rural communities who can’t afford more, this also means that people in California, where the minimum wage is $15 an hour can send letters for incredibly cheap. This basically makes the prices at the post office not indicative of the laws of supply and demand like true capitalism should be. And as less and less people live rurally, it’s becoming quite clear that something has to change, or it’ll break the USPS.
In 2017, President Donald Trump proposed to privatize the USPS but was quickly shot down by Congress and the Senate. In 2020, after the passing of the first stimulus act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a second act was proposed, and weirdly enough, it specified funds for the USPS. Thanks to the pandemic (and Amazon), the USPS experienced a surge in use in the early months of 2020. But even this surge isn’t enough to save it. Much of the money the USPS is currently hemorrhaging is actually in employee retirement and health benefits. And while it may seem like the obvious answer to simply cut these benefits, well, they can’t, because the 1972 Postal Service Reorganization Act specifies the exact benefits to be given to these employees. And let’s be honest, the cost of healthcare and other similar services are only rising. In the second stimulus package the HEROES Act, proposed by the democrats, the USPS would receive 25 billion in bailout money. While this may sound like a good idea, this is truly only a temporary fix to a long-term problem. While 25 billion may sound like it will keep the USPS in the green for years, it won’t. The USPS is currently operating at a deficit of over 15 billion a year. Let that sink in.
As of the writing of this article, the HEROES Act did not pass and is unlikely ever to do so. The Republicans are simply not interested in bailing out the post office for approximately 1.7 years before they will once again need funding. Trump and the Republicans are strongly pushing postal reform, which has greatly angered the democrats who are blocking the Republicans on every side.
The next presidential election is scheduled for November 3rd, 2020. As mentioned above, it will be a mail-in vote. President Trump doesn’t like this idea as he thinks it will promote fraud especially in votes for his opposition. Thus, the USPS has made an interesting proposition and has patented a system for blockchain-based voting.
This will work by mailing registered voters a computer-readable code which they will use online to verify their identity and vote digitally. The system will subsequently separate the identity information from the vote in order to maintain voter anonymity. This will help relieve much of the pressure on the USPS while also bringing them the business they so desperately need to stay afloat. However, while the patent was filed in February, it’s unclear where the technology will be ready to use come this November, in fact, it’s more than likely that it won’t be — but hopefully, the USPS will continue to pursue the technology so it will be available to use in future elections.
Overall, the USPS has come to realize its days are quickly becoming numbered. They know they must innovate to stay alive. And if they believe that blockchain may be the way to do it, well then it seems like blockchain technology will definitely be in our future, and it’s probably time we start learning, investing, and innovating it now.
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