Beginning Oct. 1, the USPS will implement new service standards for first-class mail and packages, increasing delivery times for approximately 30% of its volume. As a result, some letters, parcels, and magazine subscriptions traveling longer distances may take up to five days to arrive, rather than two or three. The changes are part of a 10-year plan known as Delivering for America, which aims to overhaul the agency and reduce its $160 billion debt. The plan would also reduce post office hours and raise customer prices, with even more postage increases planned during the peak holiday season.
The USPS processes and delivers an average of 17.7 million mail pieces per hour, a portion of which are packages from online retailers such as Amazon. However, the volume of first-class mail, such as letters, cards, and bills, has decreased dramatically as Americans increasingly rely on electronic payments and communication. And, with e-commerce on the rise, the agency is struggling to keep up with competitors like UPS, FedEx, and even Amazon, which has its own delivery network.
Delays in wedding invitations, as well as late unemployment checks or child tax credit payments, could result from more expensive or erratic mail delivery.
The Postal Service has stated that it is struggling to meet high performance standards, and it has been financially insolvent for some time. The COVID pandemic exacerbated the USPS’s sluggish service and cash crisis, as staffing shortages collided with a surge in online purchasing for necessities as well as an influx of 2020 election ballots.
One way the USPS intends to cut costs is to use fewer planes to transport mail and instead rely on more trucks, which can deliver a higher volume of mail for less money. According to the USPS, ground transportation is also more reliable than air transportation in all seasons.
The Postal Service’s 10-year plan also includes a multibillion-dollar contract to modernize the now-ancient delivery vehicle fleet, with new trucks expected to appear on carrier routes in 2023. There are also proposed investments in equipment and infrastructure to help transport the increasing volume of packages more efficiently, as well as postal facility upgrades.
When asked for comment, a USPS spokesperson stated that the new service standards will improve customer delivery reliability, consistency, and efficiency.
Some critics, however, question why the agency would choose to slow down mail when it is already struggling to deliver mail on time. On July 20, the Postal Regulatory Commission issued an advisory opinion concluding that the estimated annual cost savings for the USPS’ proposed service standard changes will not result in “significant improvement” of the agency’s current deficit woes.
There was also the pandemic, which affected postal workers as well as other workers. Employees were required to follow social distancing guidelines, quarantine restrictions, and safety protocols, causing delays in mail processing and delivery. At the same time, the lockdowns caused a significant increase in parcel volume, and some facilities were so overwhelmed that they simply stopped accepting mail.
Individuals and businesses will face longer delivery times for both outgoing and incoming mail that must travel longer distances by postal truck. As a result, those sending letters or packages from coast to coast, as well as to and from Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and other US territories, will be particularly affected.
Delays in first-class mail may also have an uneven impact on customers depending on their ZIP code. The plan will disproportionately affect Western states, as well as parts of Texas and Florida. Furthermore, rural communities, low-income families, and seniors rely more on the Postal Service.
In addition, the USPS announced a temporary price increase on commercial and retail domestic package shipments for the peak fall and holiday season of 2021, which will be in effect from Oct. 3 to Dec. 26. The price increases on priority mail, priority mail express, and first-class package service range from 25 cents to $5 per package, as detailed in this USPS statement.