from Snail Mail
written by Samantha Berger
pictures by Julia Patton
Running Press Kids, 2018
When I was in third grade, I was finally old enough to attend Hebrew School. Our class met after regular school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We learned about traditions, values, and most exciting, how to read and write in another language. The letters were exotic to my young eyes and hand. Being able to form different letters to represent familiar sounds clicked happily in my young brain.
My great-grandma could not read or write English, although she spoke fluently (with a charming accent). She could read and write Russian and Yiddish, though. Although she said she didn’t remember any Russian words but Nyet (no), the Yiddish she spoke with my parents to protect us from what was going on in the world was a comfortable way for them to communicate.
Years later, Gram lived with us. But not then and my eight-year-old self had an idea. I could practice my Hebrew letters to write English words and send my messages to Gram. Transliteration is a real thing, but I thought I made it up.
I wrote out her address the way we learned in regular school. I got a stamp and knew where on the envelop to stick it. I was old enough to walk to our corner mailbox by myself.
When Gram got that letter, she was tickled pink!
Who still mails letters? Or receives them? My mailbox is full of advertisements (read Junk), requests for contributions to causes worthy and otherwise (read more Junk), the regular utility and credit card bills, and once in a blue moon, a real letter or card from an old friend or a grandchild.
But, the United States Postal Service is in financial trouble. This is not new trouble and it’s not going away. Louis DeJoy, the US Postmaster General has lots of ideas, some good, most bad, to fix the financial mess.
The USPS is an independent US Government Agency, but does not receive any taxpayer funds. Its only source of income comes from sales of stamps and other service fees like package deliveries. That’s a large part of the problem.
Before we delve into that, here are some fun facts.
Forty-nine bicycle routes in Florida and Arizona are provided by the USPS. Mail Carriers also use planes, hovercraft, trains, trucks, cars, boats, ferries, helicopters, subways, and feet. The most unusual route uses between 10 and 22 mules to deliver mail to the Havasupai people who have lived in the Grand Canyon for at least the last 800 years. The trip is nine miles long. It takes three hours to get down and five to get back up.
Mail is collected in 140,875 blue mailboxes found in mostly convenient locations throughout cities and towns. According to USPS, in 2020, the Postal Service spent over $73 billion to pay almost half a million employees and maintain over 34,000 post offices and over 230,000 vehicles on 231,579 routes to deliver almost 130 billion pieces of First Class mail. That doesn’t count junk mail.
In 1963, ZIP (Zone Improvement Plan) codes were introduced to allow mail sorting methods to be automated. Numbers range from 00501 (IRS office in Holtsville, NY) to 99950 (Ketchikan, AK). One easy-to-remember ZIP Code is General Electric’s office in Schenectady, NY (12345). Newton Falls, OH (44444) and part of Arlington County, VA (22222) are the only places in the US that sport five identical numbers.
So back to the financial woes and how Congress proposes to solve them. Earlier this month (February, 2022), the House passed the hugely popular Postal Service Reform Act by a bi-partisan vote of 342-92. The aim of the legislation is to “[put] the Postal Service on a sound financial footing so it can continue serving all Americans for years to come.” (House Oversight and Reform Chair Carolyn Maloney)
The Act requires retired postal employees to enroll in Medicare when they become eligible, and drops the mandate that forces the agency to cover its health care costs years in advance. The projected savings is over 50 billion dollars.
While the Postal Service receives no taxpayer funds, it is not allowed to set its own prices. Only Congress can do that. The result, USPS is operating in the red to the tune of almost $5,000,000,000.00 (five billion dollars) in 2020.
Louis DeJoy wants to replace the fleet of gas-powered vehicles with electric vehicles. After the initial outlay, it is a huge cost-saver.
He also wants to shorten office hours, lengthen delivery times, and remove equipment. The Postal Service Reform Act would mandate mail delivery six days per week, and provide for more transparency. The huge debt may be forgiven. The Act would allow the Postal Service to provide non-postal services like hunting and fishing licenses.
Just when forward movement seemed possible, Rick Scott, Senator from Florida, dragged his feet. Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer accused Scott of holding up the bill over a “technical detail.”
So in the short run, we will pay a little more for a little less service. The Senate will vote (well, that’s the new plan) next month when they reconvene.
In July 2020, the price to mail a letter was 55 cents. The price went up to 58 cents in August, 2021. Starting in July 2022, the USPS will increase First Class Mail prices twice a year. The amount of the increase has not been announced. It might be wise to stock up on Forever Stamps.
But, fifty-eight cents to put a smile on someone’s face? For me, it’s still a bargain.
stay curious! (and stay in touch)