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Mail early: Rates are higher and mail is slower

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Lester Graham
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Michigan Radio
Since October, the U.S. Postal Service started implementing a plan which slows the delivery of mail, and for the holiday season rates are higher for packages.

Part of the holiday season means shipping packages. That’s been even more important since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.

This year we know one thing for certain: if you use the U.S. Postal Service, you’ll pay more. What we don’t know is whether a new plan to handle mail will be any more reliable, but it is expected to be slower.

Last year, some people received holiday cards well after New Year’s. Packages were delayed. Semi-trucks full of mail lined up for blocks both to be loaded at U.S. Postal Service distribution centers and to be unloaded.

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Lester Graham
During the holiday period last year, trucks lined up for blocks waiting for hours to be admitted into the U.S. Postal Service Detroit Network Distribution Center.

It was a perfect storm. COVID-19 outbreaks among postal employees meant staff shortages. People concerned about the pandemic ordered gifts online for mail delivery. Since many family gatherings were canceled or much smaller than usual, a lot of gifts were sent by mail. The post offices had been swamped by voting by mail ballots. That summer the Postmaster General ordered the removal of hundreds of mail sorting machines across the U.S. Postal Service officials said the move was part of a long-term plan to decommission old machines.

Another phase of that long-term plan called “Delivering for America” includes intentionally slowing down mail deliveries and increasing prices. That went into effect last month.

The Postal Service says slower service and higher rates will increase delivery reliability, consistency and efficiency for customers.

But the Postal Service warns you to mail items early.

If you mailed a letter from Ann Arbor before the slowdown, it usually would have reached anywhere in the continental U.S. in three days and get to just about anywhere in Michigan in two days.

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Lester Graham
USPS trucks lined up before deliveries begin for the day.

Now, from Ann Arbor it will take three days to reach the west side of Michigan. Four days to reach Texas, Florida, and eight other states. It will take five days to get to the west coast.

Part of the reason is the Postal Service is nearly eliminating the use of jets to speed mail across the country.

“We’ll make better use of our trucks and existing surface network to move the mail, relying less on costly air transportation,” the USPS said in an alert.

Be prepared to pay more for letters, cards, and packages this holiday. A First Class stamp for a letter increased to 58 cents this summer.

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Graham, Lester
From USPS Postage Rates & Prices website.

The Postal Service also plans to start adjusting its rates twice a year, meaning postage is likely to continue to get more expensive.

Rates for all kinds of parcels also went up.

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Graham, Lester
From the USPS Postage Rates & Prices website.

This long range plan of slower mail and higher prices was designed by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, the same official who scrapped the sorting machines.

The Postmaster General is hired by a governing board and not directly by the President or Congress. It’s a way to keep politics out of the mail service. Critics note that despite the facts that DeJoy was the 2020 finance chair for the Republican National Convention and a fundraiser for Donald Trump, he was hired for the position. That took place after former President Trump’s Treasury Secretary was talking about cutting money for the Postal Service unless the Trump administration could start making decisions, according to a report by The Washington Post.

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Lester Graham
Holiday themed packaging and cards for sale at a Michigan post office.

Now, President Joe Biden has nominated people to replace some of the governing board which oversees the Postal Service. Some members of Congress have been saying they hope it will eventually mean the ouster of DeJoy.

Even with changes, Postal Service’s money problems will remain. Most of the financial difficulties were caused by Congress, which has set requirements that make it very difficult to compete with other delivery services such as FedEx and UPS.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report on the U.S. Postal Service in September. It included why the Postal Service is not doing well financially and what changes Congress could institute.

“Congress designed the U.S. Postal Service to be self-sustaining, covering its costs primarily from selling products and services. However, in FY 2007, expenses began exceeding revenue. This has led to losses of $87 billion from FYs 2007 through 2020, and $188 billion in unfunded liabilities and debt.” –GAO

In poll after poll in America, the Postal Service is consistently one of the most supported government entities by the people, despite its difficulties.

For now, the only thing people can do is mail early and anticipate more frequent price increases.