The United States Postal Service is many things to our country, but above all it is a cornerstone of American democracy. Today however, the USPS faces a renewed attack on its being from those who point only to bottom line financials rather than considering all that the USPS does and provides. The postal service can trace its origins all the way back to 1775 during the Second Continental Congress, where Benjamin Franklin was appointed postmaster general. Over two centuries, the USPS has grown and evolved and was finally transformed into an independent agency by the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970.
Recently, a national debate has reemerged about whether the USPS should be privatized, with proponents framing the agency as a “business” and pointing to its financial health when expenses exceed revenues. However, this argument fails to recognize the key function of the USPS, the fact that it was established by Congress as a service to the American people. It is because of this fact that delivery to every single address in the nation is required. Private delivery services are under no such obligation. While urban areas may not feel the impact of the loss of home delivery to every household, populations in rural American as well as vulnerable citizens (including seniors and veterans) definitely would. Private delivery services do not carry any service mandate, meaning that without the USPS rural residents would have to drive to the private equivalent in their nearest town to pick up mail and packages. This burden is of particular concern to the millions of rural Americans for whom the postal service is a lifeline through which they receive essential medicine, pay their bills, and do business at a reasonable rate.
This especially impacts the farming and agricultural communities. As businesses in rural communities, the USPS becomes a lifeline. For farmers and ranchers, the USPS delivers seeds, chicks, honeybees, equipment, specialty tools and other time-sensitive materials that can no longer be purchased locally. According to a recent report by the postal service, their “last mile” delivery network (mail that is carried to underserved rural communities) remained down 4.26% from their baseline target. This reduction is not only a disservice to Americans in rural communities, it puts at risk the future of agriculture, especially for younger generations looking to start out in agriculture.
While some argue that the USPS is nearly obsolete as digital communication technologies expand, this argument masks the fact that a large portion of our population still rely on the regular delivery of mail. An estimated 14.5 million people (mostly in rural areas) don’t have access to high speed broadband internet according to the Federal Communications Commission. Furthermore, an estimated 18% of Americans still pay their bills by mail and 20% of adults over age 40 receive medication for chronic conditions through the mail. In 2019 alone, the postal service shipped 1.2 billion prescriptions, according to the National Association of Letter Carriers.
This service has an enhanced impact for our nation’s veterans. The Veterans Administration fills about 80% of prescriptions through their Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy (CMOP), which primarily uses the USPS. Almost 120 million prescriptions a year are filled through VA CMOP, with about 330,000 deliveries arriving daily to veterans across the country. According to the VA web site, “prescriptions usually arrive within three to five days.” Veterans groups and the VA report that recently these medications are sometimes taking weeks to be delivered, causing veterans to miss their vital medications. Our veterans deserve better!
The importance of our right to vote is being underlined in the ongoing debate about the United States Postal Service. The grange has a long history of supporting the delivery of mail to all residents of the United States. The national grange first debated rural free mail delivery in 1891. After ten years of actively lobbying, in 1901 the grange succeeded in having the rural free delivery of mail instituted nationally.
Today, the USPS is just as vital as it was at the turn of the 20th century. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of Americans to work, learn, and receive medical care from their homes, putting an unprecedented burden on the United States Postal Service. The USPS is also critical to the upcoming election. As millions of Americans prepare to vote by mail in this fall’s election, effective and quick postal service will be essential for rural Americans to have their voices heard at the ballot box. Free, fair and efficient elections are the wheels that turn the machine of our constitutional republic, where citizens get to voice their position on who should govern. This year, the USPS will be lynch pin in ensuring that all Americans can let their voices be heard through their ballots and it is our responsibility to protect this right in every form.
In a nation that is becoming more and more politically divided, outlets for civil discourse hold an even greater place of importance in the future of our society. The grange is that place. Since 1873 the California State Grange has been advocating for the improvement of life for Californians. The grange’s grassroots policy making process allows individuals in community granges to debate proposals that can impact local, county, state and national policy. This opportunity to have a voice extends beyond matters of policy as well. The grange, at its founding in December 1867, has included women with an equal voice and vote in all matters the grange considers.
Now more than ever, individual citizens need to unite and let their voices be heard. With political polarization higher than ever before, the grange brings together people from all backgrounds and ideologies for civil debate in a non-partisan environment. Our political system is based on the electorate having informed debate and letting their voice be heard. By being a member of the grange, you add your ideas and voice to 150,000 others across the country. Community granges affect the communities they serve in a positive way both politically and socially. The post office was never intended to be a profit-making business, it is a necessary and vital service that many folks cannot afford to do without
More information about the grange in California can be found at castategrange.org.