Mail in New Orleans has never been the most dependable, with letters and packages frequently arriving late or not at all, but recent USPS changes have added new issues to our already wonky mail system.
The most notable and noticeable change was the recent removal of blue collection boxes from the French Quarter. Across the country individuals have recorded collection boxes being unceremoniously stripped from their streets en masse. While most of New Orleans’ collection boxes remain, the French Quarter fell victim to USPS’s recent purging.
When questioned about the removal of collection boxes in the French Quarter, a USPS representative responded with this statement:
“The Postal Service reviews collection box density every year on a routine basis to identify redundant/seldom used collection boxes as First-Class Mail volume continues to decline. Based on the density testing, boxes are identified for potential removal and notices are placed on boxes to give customers an opportunity to comment before the removal decision is made. This process is one of the many ways the Postal Service makes adjustments to our infrastructure to match our resources to declining mail volumes. Given the recent customer concerns the Postal Service will postpone removing boxes for a period of 90 days while we evaluate our customers‘ concerns.”
The response seemed to imply that this was a routine operation that USPS was undergoing which had nothing to do with certain political events that were happening simultaneously.
This assertion checks out when you consider that in the last 5 years USPS has removed more than 12,000 collection boxes to cope with the declining use of snail mail. Their removal process involves testing to see if a collection box receives less than 25 pieces of mail a day and notifying customers before the removal of underperforming collection boxes.
The French Quarter collection boxes being removed because they were underused is a possibility, however USPS not following the second part of their protocol, notifying customers prior to the box’s removal, makes their story seem a little less believable. Also, little notice was given across the country where other collection boxes were removed.
The sudden removals, and the extent to which the boxes were removed, sets recent events apart. Furthermore, the boxes being removed after comments by President Trump that implied he wanted to slow down the efficiency of the US Postal Service, makes the whole situation feel like a set-up to suppress mail-in voting.
Trump said that he blocked the USPS bail-out because the Democrats “need that money in order to have the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots” from mail-in voting. If he didn’t supply them with bail-out money, “that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting.”
The postal service needs bail-out money to continue functioning. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy explained that, “The Postal Service is in a financially unsustainable position, stemming from substantial declines in mail volume, and a broken business model. We are currently unable to balance our costs with available funding sources to fulfill both our universal service mission and other legal obligations.”
DeJoy recently put into place new policies that he claimed would help USPS deal with their financial burden. These cost-cutting measures included removing collection boxes, disassembling mail sorting machines, cutting overtime, and changing delivery policies, like encouraging post office workers to leave mail behind.
While these changes may save USPS some money what they will really be effective in doing is making USPS less efficient, hindering its ability to quickly process mail. USPS not being able to effectively process mail will absolutely undermine mail-in voting for the next election.
More alarming than the removal of collection boxes was the disassembly of mail-sorting machines.
Postal workers have reported that mail-sorting machines have been taken apart across the country. Over 19 mail-sorting machines have been removed without explanation. Each one of those machines was capable of sorting 35,000 pieces of mail per an hour. Hundreds more were slated to also be removed from operation this year. Notably, the areas that mail sorting machines were first removed from were all places that voted heavily Democratic in the last election.
Kimberly Karol, the president of the Iowa Postal Service Union commented on the new “cost-cutting” measures, “I don’t see this as cost-saving measures. I see this as a way to undermine public confidence in the mail service. It’s not saving costs. We’re spending more time trying to implement these policy changes. And it’s, in our offices, costing more overtime.”
After an uproar from the public over what was seen as preemptive voter suppression efforts, on August 18th the Postmaster General released another statement that “The Postal Service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall. Even with the challenges of keeping our employees and customers safe and healthy as they operate amid a pandemic, we will deliver the nation’s election mail on time and within our well-established service standards.” He added that “Mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will remain where they are.”
He addressed concerns about him undermining USPS to stop mail-in voting, rejecting those accusations. Still, he is slated to testify before Congress next week about the motivation behind his major policy changes.
The removed collection boxes have not been returned, and the sorting machines that were disassembled have not been rebuilt. Whether collection boxes will continue to be removed, and sorting machines disassembled after the “90 days” mentioned is yet to be seen. As of now, they have implied they will wait until after the election.
New Orleans USPS facilities continue to have issues with packages and mail being delivered on time, or rather, are having more issues than normal. Whether their problems are stemming from the new policies is yet to be seen.