Wednesday, October 4, 2023

We All Depend On the Post Office


Not long ago, as I left the post office, I found myself humming a 1935 tune: “I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter.”

I was there to purchase a roll of “forever” stamps, see what’s new with the specialty stamps, and mail a package.

I am an unapologetic fan of what I call “snail mail,” mail delivered by the post office. And I still love to write letters. Six days a week, I anticipate seeing what has come through my mail slot.

Sometimes it’s catalogs and junk mail. The first of the month is utility, credit card and other bills. And monthly or bi-monthly, “New Mexico Magazine,” “The Atlantic,” or AARP magazine.

The best days are when there is a personal letter, sometimes unexpected, from a friend or family member.

The post office was founded by the Second Continental Congress in 1775, and Benjamin Franklin was the first postmaster general. Seventeen years later, the Post Office Department was created, and local postmasters began to be appointed, creating jobs in communities.

Two major changes to the USPO designation have occurred over time. In 1872 it became a cabinet level position, and almost a century later the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 transformed it into an independent agency. Today it has a governing board of 11 members, including the Postmaster General.

It is one of the few government agencies codified in the Constitution and employs more than 600,000 people in strong middle-class jobs with benefits.

The postal service, arguably a beloved agency and institution, is the only delivery service that reaches every address in the country, 161 million of them -- residences, businesses, and post office boxes.

In New Mexico we have post offices or substations in every incorporated community, some unincorporated communities, and in Native communities.

That number was hard to pin down but is likely nearing 150.

Occasionally, proposals to privatize the post office emerge. In 2018 there was a proposal by the Trump administration to institute a series of reforms designed to leverage it for sale to the private sector.

The plan received a lukewarm reception.

Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan voiced the bipartisan concern that the reforms would harm those who depend on the USPO for delivery of prescriptions, business documents and federal checks – most notably in rural and underserved areas.

Privatizing postal services is one of the rare issues in Congress with strong bipartisan agreement: Don’t do it.

Each time a privatization proposal surfaces, every member of Congress starts hearing from their constituents, especially those in rural areas.

The USPO has a distinct mission, including “to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people.”

In New Mexico’s villages and towns, it does just that – binds communities together.

In the smallest places, where farmers, ranchers and rural dwellers pick up mail at a P.O. Box, folks know “when the mail comes in.” The post office becomes a gathering place.

In more urban areas neighbors greet one another as they wait. Many of us are on first-name basis with our neighborhood postman/woman.

In 2022, after years of wrangling, Congress passed an overwhelmingly bipartisan (79-19 in the Senate) financial reform bill that would insure long-term financial security, six-day delivery, and standards for delivery times.

Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said this: “Our country is pretty divided right now, let’s be honest. But one enduring reality is that we have a post office that ties us all together, and everybody depends on that post office.”

Next time you go to the post office, think about that, and maybe hum along with me.



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