National

USPS is about to charge you more for slower mail. Here’s why.

The Postal Service has struggled for years with financial losses due to declining mail use, and the pandemic exposed more issues within the agency.

Bill O'Leary
USPS is about to charge you more for slower mail. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bill O'Leary.


Delivery slowdowns at the U.S. Postal Service took effect Friday, and higher prices are soon to follow. The nation’s mail service is preparing to implement core components of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s 10-year plan for the agency, a program designed to cut costs and raise new revenue to fix its many financial problems.

The Postal Service has struggled for years with financial losses due to declining mail use, and the pandemic exposed more issues within the agency as it struggled to cope with an avalanche of e-commerce purchases, worker availability problems, and a disorganized processing network.

DeJoy, the controversial Trump ally who took over the agency months before the 2020 presidential election, introduced his vision for the agency in March with the backing of the Postal Service’s bipartisan governing board. A major component of that plan — slower service — is set to kick in.

Advertisement:

Here’s everything you need to know about the changes at the Postal Service.

Q: Why is my mail going to slow down? And how much slower will it be?

A: The simple answer: Your mail may slow down because the Postal Service lengthened its “service standards,” or the amount of time it says it should take for a piece of mail to get delivered. And how much slower it will get depends on where you live.

A little more detail: Up until Oct. 1, the Postal Service said it should take no more than three days for a piece of first-class mail to be delivered anywhere in the country. After Oct. 1, it will take between two and five days.

Advertisement:

That’s because the Postal Service is changing the way it transports your mail. The Postal Service used to put about 20% of your mail on airplanes to move it across the country. This is the mail that was going from coast to coast, and to make the three-day service standard, the agency had to move it faster than was possible on a truck.

Now it’s going to drive. The new service standard will cut air transportation to only 12% of first-class mail. Postal leadership says this will both cut costs — the agency spends a lot more flying mail than it does trucking it — and increase predictability. During the 2020 holiday season, the air-transport network was not reliable enough to keep the Postal Service’s processing centers running on schedule. So even if trucks take longer, the agency hopes they will be more predictable.

Advertisement:

Q: Does the quality of my mail delivery depend on where I live?

A: Yes, it absolutely does. The Washington Post studied the data the Postal Service sent to its regulator to justify the service slowdowns and found that where you live will be the determining factor of if your mail arrives slower than it used to.

Seventy percent of first-class mail sent to Nevada will take longer to arrive, according to The Post’s analysis, as will 60% of the deliveries to Florida, 58% to Washington state, 57% to Montana, and 55% to Arizona and Oregon. In all, at least a third of such letters and parcels addressed to 27 states will arrive more slowly under the new standards.

Advertisement:

Why is that? Because, as earlier noted, the Postal Service is not going to fly as much of your mail anymore. Therefore, areas on the coasts or the mainland extremities of the country — pretty much anywhere West of the Rocky Mountains, parts of southern Texas and Florida — are going to be hit the hardest.

Q: How much will it cost to send something in the mail?

A: From Oct. 3 to Dec. 26, the Postal Service is raising prices on some products through a holiday season surcharge. The price hikes are modest for some products (30 cents more for first-class package service), a bit more for others ($1 more for parcel return service, deliveries from consumers back to retailers), and heftier still for others ($5 more for priority mail, priority express mail, parcel select and retail ground services for items weighing between 21 and 70 pounds).

Advertisement:

But even after holiday season, postage rates are not going back to what they used to be. The Postal Service this summer raised prices on everything from stamps (from 55 cents to 58 cents) to flat mail, such as marketing pieces (from $1 to $1.16), to media and library mail (from $3.71 to $4.11).

And be prepared for mail prices to keep going up. The Postal Service announced in September that it will now adjust rates twice annually — once in January and again in July.

All this is because the Postal Service is desperate for money. It has $188.4 billion in liabilities, and agency leaders project it will lose another $160 billion over the next decade. DeJoy is cutting costs where he can to try to fix the balance sheet — the cuts to transportation are chief among them — but he’s also trying to raise new revenue. Price hikes are a key plank in that strategy.

Advertisement:

Q: Who decided to slow down the mail and raise prices?

A: The decision to slow down mail delivery and raise postage prices was made by DeJoy with the backing of the agency’s governing board.

Here’s how the leadership of the Postal Service works, because it’s important context to understand these moves. DeJoy was hired last May by the Postal Service’s board of governors — a group of nine people appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The postmaster general is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the agency, and his performance is evaluated by the board of governors, similar to the way the CEO of a private company answers to the board of directors.

Together, DeJoy and the board of governors decided to both slow service and raise prices. The board voted unanimously to implement DeJoy’s “Delivering for America” plan in March.

But when the board voted to support that plan, it had only six members, and all of them were chosen by former President Donald Trump. That Trump-appointed board endorsed DeJoy’s plan shortly after President Joe Biden nominated three members of his own to the board. Many liberals and mailing industry officials hoped Biden’s appointees would prevent some of the more controversial parts of the 10-year plan from taking effect. Instead, DeJoy and the six Trump-appointed governors have forged ahead.

Q: Why is the Postal Service making so many changes?

A: The answer to that is simple: We’re all sending a lot less mail than we used to.

The Postal Service generally supports itself only on the sale of postage products. Outside of extreme circumstances, it does not receive taxpayer funding. So when individuals and businesses send less and less mail, the Postal Service brings in less money. Meanwhile, it has to keep up a vast amount of infrastructure — think about all those post offices and sorting centers, and all of its 30-year-old mail delivery trucks — and it has some hefty and unusual financial obligations tied to its retiree healthcare costs.

Put all these things together and the result is simple. The Postal Service is running out of money, and is projected to lose even more. DeJoy hopes the price increases will generate between $35 billion and $52 billion in new revenue over the next decade, and the service slowdowns will save another $10 billion to $17 billion.

Together, experts say that’s a significant amount of money — but still not enough to solve the Postal Service’s problems.

Q: Who is Louis DeJoy?

A: DeJoy is the 75th postmaster general of the United States, a position first held by Benjamin Franklin in 1775. (Yes, the U.S. mail system is older than the nation itself.) DeJoy is a former supply-chain logistics executive and a major donor to Republican causes, including Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign.

Members of the board of governors, who hired him in May 2020, have lauded his expertise building a logistics company. DeJoy turned his father’s family trucking business into a national shipping powerhouse called New Breed Logistics that contracted with the Postal Service. Then he sold New Breed to global logistics titan XPO Logistics in 2014 for $615 million.

Critics, including more than 100 Democrats in Congress, have called for DeJoy’s removal citing a host of criticisms — from his connections to Trump to arguments he has conflicts of interest. He still owns four office buildings that he leases to XPO for more than $2 million annually. Others still say that the performance issues the Postal Service has experienced under his watch — plus the planned price hikes and delivery slowdowns — are grounds for removal.

DeJoy has not responded to those critiques, but an agency spokesperson said his continued involvement with XPO was cleared by ethics officials. The majority of members of the Postal Service board of governors have continued backing DeJoy. Republican governor John Barger told a Senate committee in Sept. 2020 that the board was “thrilled” with DeJoy’s performance.

“The board is tickled pink, every single board member, with the impact he’s having,” Barger said.

Finally, DeJoy is under FBI investigation for his campaign finance activities. Former New Breed employees told The Post that DeJoy pressured them into giving to Republican candidates, and later paid the employees back with raises or bonuses. A DeJoy spokesman told The Washington Post that DeJoy “has always been scrupulous in his adherence to the campaign contribution laws and has never knowingly violated them.”

Q: Can Biden fire Louis DeJoy or the board of governors?

A: Yes and no. Let’s go through them one at a time.

For the postmaster general: The conventional wisdom is that the president cannot fire the postmaster general. The postmaster general serves at the pleasure of the board of governors and is therefore not answerable to the president.

But some of DeJoy’s critics have begun advancing an alternate legal theory to the White House that would allow Biden to fire the postmaster general. The Supreme Court held in two recent cases (Selia and Collins) that the president can remove the director of a federal agency headed by a single Senate-confirmed executive. Under those precedents, some liberals are encouraging Biden to fire DeJoy, and fight out his job status in court. Such a scenario, however, is unlikely.

For the board of governors: The president can fire members of the board of governors “for cause,” but there is some debate over what “cause” means. Does “cause” mean that a governor has to have committed some impropriety? Or does “cause” mean that the president thinks the governor is doing a bad job?

Again, a host of liberals have asked Biden to interpret “cause” more broadly. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., has asked Biden to fire all the Trump-appointed members of the board of governors. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Pa., as recently as Sept. 28 tweeted the same request.

The Biden administration has been generally mum on the topic, but White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in February that “I think we can all agree, most Americans would agree, that the Postal Service needs leadership that can and will do a better job.”

Q: Can Biden nominate anyone new to the board of governors?

A: Biden can nominate two new people to the board of governors to replace John Barger, a Republican, and Ron Bloom, a Democrat, when both their terms expire in December. Governors serve staggered seven year terms, and the board can approve a one-year “holdover” term if the president has not nominated a replacement.

Barger is likely to be replaced, postal insiders say. Bloom is another story. He has the fierce backing of the National Association of Letter Carriers, one of the Postal Service’s strong unions. But he’s made opponents of some Democrats who are frustrated in his continued support for DeJoy.

Jump To Comments

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com