Earth Day in the Pandemic

When I started working for the Postal Service in 1974, there was an incredible amount of mail to be manually sorted and distributed. It seemed like chaos to me and I told my friends it was amazing anyone ever got any mail at all. I’ve been a critic ever since. I spent the last ten years of my career auditing Postal Service financial and processing operations for the Office of Inspector General. I found a lot of deficiencies to report on. When you read my novel next year, you will find a not often flattering picture of what it’s like to be a postal worker.

People love to complain about their postal carrier or the rude window clerk, but the reality is Americans’ opinion of the Postal Service consistently remains highly positive. According to the latest Pew Research survey an overwhelming 91 percent of respondents have a favorable view of USPS, higher than any other federal agency. And, despite all the critical audit reports I authored, I’ve always been completely impressed with the people I worked with and wrote about. With very few exceptions, they are consistently full of integrity, hardworking and completely dedicated to the Postal Service mission of providing the nation with reliable, affordable, universal mail service. Four of them died during the anthrax scares after 9/11 and as of 4/11/2020, nineteen have died from COVID19.

USPS is a complex entity. It was established by the Constitution but it does not and never has used tax dollars. It relies on the public using its services to operate. It is supposed to breakeven but is hamstrung by not being able to set its own rates (a separate commission determines postage rates and federal law defines what products and service the Postal Service may offer.) It has been crippled since 2006 by the requirement to prefund retiree health benefits (a $5 billion per year cost and a requirement no other entity, private or public, has to make.) And now with the pandemic, USPS is projected to become insolvent by October, just when vote-by-mail ballots are due to go out.

For as long as I can remember there have been threats of the Postal Service being privatized but no other company has been willing or able to provide service to every single address in our fifty states for an affordable price. To remain solvent, USPS made deals with long time competitors like UPS, FedEx, Mailboxes Etc., and most recently Amazon. The current resident of the White House has a problem with the deal made with Amazon and with Jeff Bezos, to the extent that he is now willing to let the Postal Service die without a bailout.

I’m not a fan of Amazon because I’m a writer and a reader and I don’t like how they treat authors. Whether or not the Amazon deal was a good one, it is criminal in the middle of a pandemic to shut down a service that delivers prescriptions, mail, and ballots to every single address in the United States. I’ve reached out to my Congressman, but the best Harley Rouda can offer is a ten-billion-dollar loan USPS will never be able to repay. The Postal Service needs a bailout. Perhaps your congressperson can do more.

In the meantime, I encourage you to buy sheets of stamps. If everyone bought one sheet a month, USPS revenue is projected to increase by 1.5 billion, which would certainly help.

And what would I do with these stamps my millennium readers might ask? A few ideas:

1. Send birthday greetings and wedding and graduation congrats since you can currently only attend these celebrations virtually. You can buy cards at grocery and drug stores which are still open. You can make them.
2. Send some of your child’s art to your grandfather or your Boomer aunt and uncle.
3. Sign up for Vote Forward and encourage people to vote in the next election.
4. Make stamp art and jewelry. Check out Pinterest for lots of intriguing ideas.
5. Start a stamp collection. You have time, right?

The Earth Day stamp pictured above is now on sale. I suggest you buy a sheet in honor of my mother, Alma Brice Parker, who died on Earth Day last year. Her father was a railway mail clerk and her brother was a supervisor of mail processing. She was an original Earth Day celebrant, a founder of the first recycling program in Corvallis, Oregon, and an avid register of voters. She would be so happy if you put one of these stamps on a birthday card, a wedding announcement, and most especially,your ballot in November.


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