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Mainers Expected To See Slower Mail Under Postal Service Cost-Cutting Plan

Josiah Morse
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP
Postal carrier Josiah Morse heads out to deliver mail and packages, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, in Portland, Maine. The U.S. Postal Service's stretch of challenges didn't end with the November general election and tens of millions of mail-in votes. The pandemic-depleted workforce fell further into a hole during the holiday rush, leading to long hours and a mountain of delayed mail.

The most common type of mail could take two extra days to arrive in Maine this fall as the U.S. Postal Service moves to cut costs by lowering delivery standards.

The changes, part of a 10-year plan released by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy earlier this year, include allowing up to five days for delivery of First-Class domestic letters — the most common type of mail — instead of three days. That slowdown will have the greatest effects in outlying parts of the lower 48 states, including much of the West Coast, parts of Florida and Texas and most of Maine, several analyses suggest.

The extended time period is set to go into effect in October after the Postal Service’s board of governors approved the plan last week. The agency argued that current standards require it to run costly trips on low-volume routes and use air transportation too often. Allowing more time for the delivery of First-Class mail would lead to savings of about $170 million per year, it argued, out of an overall operating budget of around $80 billion.

The impact of the changing standards from three to five days should be smaller in the central U.S., where ground transportation is more widely available and mail typically has less distance to travel. But less dense areas and farther-flung ones where most mail relies on air transportation, could be disadvantaged. In Maine, more than 70 percent of zip codes would see service downgrades, according to an analysis from the American Postal Workers Union.

It would not be the first time that the Postal Service’s attempts to cut costs led to mail delays in Maine. Many here saw mail — including medications, credit card payments and invoices — delayed last summer. The agency’s own data confirmed that the share of First-Class mail arriving late here had more than doubled compared to the previous year. The Postal Service backed off those changes due to the pushback.

But the latest changes come in spite of significant backlash over the last few months. More than 20 state attorneys general, including Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey, submitted feedback to the Postal Regulatory Commission earlier this summer, arguing the slowdown would harm states that rely on First-Class mail for a range of functions, including voting, drivers’ license renewals and the administration of public benefits.

“Unlike their urban counterparts, rural communities often lack suitable alternatives to using First-Class Mail,” the group wrote.

Democratic members of the House Committee on Small Business, including Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District, wrote to DeJoy and Postal Service Board of Governors Chair Ron Bloom earlier this year, arguing that delays could harm small businesses. The Association for Postal Commerce, a trade group for businesses that rely on the Postal Service, said it would “provide service of demonstrably lower quality.”

Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats, said Tuesday the cuts reflected a “dangerous misunderstanding” of the Postal Service’s mission, saying the agency “isn’t a standard business — it is a public service instituted at our founding that plays a fundamental role in connecting our nation.”

Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, said Tuesday the Postal Service was “indispensable” for Maine’s rural communities, and knocked the agency’s leadership under DeJoy for continued delays.

“Our office hears regularly from Mainers experiencing these continuous postal slowdowns, and I share their understandable frustration,” Pingree said. “With my colleagues, I will continue to push USPS leadership to get its house in order.”

This story appears through a media partnership with the Bangor Daily News.