People hold up signs in the rain at a socially distant rally dedicated to saving the United States Postal Service at San Antonio’s local post office in Thousand Oaks on Aug. 22. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The phrase “my two cents” has evolved over time and has been affected by changes in cultural-historical context. Some suggest that in the United States, the phrase may have alluded to the two-cent stamp used to post a letter back around the turn of the 20th century. Two-cent stamps were used in 1863 to mail a half-ounce letter. Then from 1919 to 1932, a one-ounce letter could be posted for two cents. It slowly increased over time until today’s 55 cents. Given our current rate, giving our two cents’ worth has certainly appreciated.

In a digital age, where many of us opt for connecting with each other electronically, we often take the postal service for granted. But this year, amid a global pandemic where more of us are relying on the postal service to deliver necessities to our doorsteps and with an election looming in which more Americans than ever are expected to vote by mail, it has become abundantly clear that mail service is vital and we should not take it for granted. 

The “cost-cutting” steps recently taken by Postmaster Louis DeJoy are extremely worrisome and seem illogical given the circumstances. Public outcry has resulted in the suspension of these changes, but it’s unclear how the actions that have already been taken will affect the upcoming election. 

While removal of sorting machines has stopped for now, 711 have already been removed this year, which is more than twice the normal amount and may undermine the confidence Americans have in mail delivery. During the past few weeks, delays of mail service have been reported across the country. A Navy veteran’s medications have been arriving late since late July, and postal workers have described mail piling up and being left behind at the dock. 

In his testimony to Congress, DeJoy admitted that some issues such as the “scheduling that caused mail to miss the scheduled transportation” have occurred but he assured Congress that the USPS is ready to “handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall.”   

Another unexpected issue that may impact the election is President Trump’s recent advice to the public that they should vote twice, by mail and in person. Trump’s statement casts doubt on the ability of the USPS to deliver the election mail, not to mention that his advice may encourage people to commit a federal crime. Unfortunately, the timing of DeJoy’s actions and the President’s statements affects the public’s perception and creates concerns about how they should cast their vote. 

It is true that the postal service has experienced financial difficulties for years but much of that is due to some cultural changes since the 1980s and to the passage of two congressional acts, the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 and the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. While both of these congressional acts were intended to “enhance” postal operations, it seems that various elements of these acts put greater pressure and limitations on postal operations. 

The Reorganization Act did away with the earlier Post Office Department and established the current USPS, making it a self-sustaining independent agency under the executive branch of the government. The Accountability and Enhancement Act was an attempt to modernize the postal service and make it more accountable. As a federal entity, the USPS is unique in that it is expected to provide a “universal public service” but without tax dollar support.   

The American cultural custom of sending greetings by mail, such as birthday and Christmas cards, has been steadily declining. Today, birthday cards are replaced with a quick Facebook post, an email, or a chat on FaceTime. Because of COVID-19, my husband and I could not attend our grandson’s birthday in New Jersey, so his gift and birthday card had to be posted. He may be only three years old, but he already knows that interesting things come through the mail. Who doesn’t love to get mail?  

The post office provides a vital service and the turmoil surrounding the possibility of mail disruptions during a national election makes it even more urgent that the postal service receive our help. The Accountability and Enhancement Act includes five possible alternative models for the future of the USPS. I agree with the option that suggests that the postal service could receive congressional appropriations. It states the following: 

The Postal Service is a Federal Government Agency Supported by Appropriations. Under this business model alternative, the Postal Service would continue its current functions. But, unlike today’s self-funded Postal Service, it would do so as a regular federal government agency supported by appropriations. This model would be most suitable if Congress and the American people determine that the Postal Service is an essential government function and, as such, would be willing to provide appropriations to support its mission.  

I, for one, would be happy if some of my taxes were earmarked for the USPS. After all, some big businesses that operate for profit receive government subsidies, why not our postal service? Congress has the power to appropriate funds so I hope our elected officials in Washington work to find a reasoned solution to the current concerns. I was pleased to read that Congressman Joaquín Castro is looking into issues of concern regarding the postal service here in San Antonio. I hope other elected officials also work to keep the USPS operating optimally.

Email petitions are circulating to support the USPS and maybe reviving some letter writing can be another form of support. I will support the USPS by continuing to send cards of greetings and letters with my 55 cents worth, and that includes voting by mail.

Grace Keyes is a cultural anthropologist and retired professor. She taught at St. Mary’s University in the sociology department for 18 years and at Our Lady of the Lake University prior to that. She...