What postal reform means for rural areas

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Earlier this week, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy agreed to postpone a series of changes that have been blamed for mail delays until after the election, and to surge extra transportation capacity to make sure ballots arrive on time. Making sure USPS lives up to its delivery service standards, is of course, especially important during the pandemic – particularly for rural Americans. For more on that perspective, Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with Betsy Huber. She’s the president of the National Grange, a 150-year-old nonprofit that advocates for rural and agricultural interests in Washington.

Interview transcript:

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Betsy Huber: I think it’s good that they’re being suspended through the election mainly just for the public perception of the problems. The Post Office definitely needs help, needs reorganization or updating or something to make them more efficient and more able to operate within their means. But this is not right really the time to do anything like that. With the pandemic going on and the increased importance of the Postal Service to people, especially in rural America. We are looking for Congress to act to allow the Post Office to more direct their own business. It’s hard because they’re not a government agency, but they’re regulated by the government and they can’t take actions to make themselves more solvent. So that needs to be looked at down the road. But right now, it’s all about emergency funding to keep it operating this year.

Jared Serbu: From your perspective are some of those changes that had been ongoing needed? Are there ones that you would support are there ones that you would hope would be not just postponed but canceled forever?

Betsy Huber: I believe so. Yes. I’ve heard that removing the blue mailboxes, sometimes they need to relocate them. They may be in an area that does not need them and they need to be moved to somewhere that has more volume that doesn’t need them. Things like that I think are important, are valid changes to be made. The sorting machines I’ve heard that the same thing, they may be more needed in other areas and need to be relocated. I think things like that definitely need to be looked at and done. But as I said, this is not really a good time to be making changes because of the pandemic, because of the public’s fear that the Postal Service is going to go bankrupt. Our members are very upset that they may lose their Postal Service. The Grange has always been a strong supporter of the Postal Service since the late 1800s when we fought for rural free delivery. So it’s very important to our members. And especially with the election this fall, more people voting by mail or by absentee, we don’t want them to be afraid that their votes not gonna count.

Jared Serbu: I think we’ve all heard anecdotes, and I think some of us have experienced delays in mail since some of these changes began. It’s hard for me to tell whether those are more or less pronounced among the rural Americans that you represent. What have you been hearing from your members on that front, if anything?

Betsy Huber: We’ve heard some complaints about delays in delivery, especially of prescription medicines, which it’s important that they get to the person on time We’ve been hearing complaints about delivery for quite some time. Now, it just seems that with all the other publicity about the Postal Service that we’re hearing more now. I’m not sure there’s, there’s more instances of it.

Jared Serbu: Yeah, I guess a more long standing concern would be what you alluded to before, the potential for closing Post Offices, which has been a discussion for a long time. Definitely preceding this Postmaster General.

Betsy Huber: Yes, that’s right.

Jared Serbu: With with regard to the election issues specifically, do your members, rural Americans, generally tend to rely more on mail than us city dwellers do for voting?

Betsy Huber: I don’t believe they have in the past, but this year, of course, everything’s different. In my experience, Election Day is a day where you go to the polling place and see your neighbors and greet the poll workers who have been there for years, so it’s like a social event. But this year, of course, elderly people and people with compromised immune systems are just not going to want to go have that social interaction. So this year is going to be much more vote by mail or absentee than ever before.