This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News on May 24, 2020.
The United States Postal Service is in trouble and the Trump administration looks like it wants to deliver the final blow to an institution that was created in our Constitution by none other than Benjamin Franklin, our first Postmaster General. People who voted for Trump say they wanted to disrupt the status quo but what we are getting instead is the destruction of the foundations of our democracy.
A mail carrier once told me that the Postal Service could be saved if they let them advertise. I thought it was a great idea. Mail trucks have lots of room for ads and they go up and down the streets in every town and city in the United States. It is a golden opportunity for advertisers.
Postage rates would go down, the pre-funding requirement for the pension would be covered, and delivery would stay at six days a week. Cities have advertising on their buses, inside and out, as well as their bus stops. Light rail and subways do the same. Schools, playgrounds and other city recreation sites have advertising all over the place: on the fences, the refreshment stands, in the parking lot, basically everywhere.
Using advertisements to supplement government income is as American as apple pie. So why not the U. S. Postal Service?
When I asked the mail carrier why this solution wasn’t adopted years ago, his answer didn’t surprise me. “Congress won’t let us,” he said. The Republican controlled Senate, the party of free enterprise, should get on board with this idea and let the Postal Service use advertising to help them stay in business. What is wrong with a can of Pepsi on a postage stamp? If it saves an American institution, so be it.
Imagine what United Parcel and Fed Ex will do when they see mail trucks driving down the street sporting a Nike icon or an ad for an upcoming movie. They will compete, as businesses do, and generate more advertising. Competition and capitalism, hand in hand.
The mail carrier recalled his frustration with good ideas that no one explored in his 42 years on the job. Every American who has stood in a long line at the Post Office with one window open, and the other four or five stations closed, have been annoyed. The Postal Service has a reputation of being staffed with “lifers” who seem apathetic. Maybe that attitude comes from government oversight that squashes innovation and change. I don’t know if that is true, but it is another way of looking at it.
Email has cut into the Postal Service’s business for many years and social media will someday make practically all communication electronically transmitted. But having a local Post Office is still important. Not everyone pays their bills online or want to send sensitive financial documents electronically, and many don’t consider an email thank you-note sufficient.
People complain about junk mail and I get my share, but I also have a spam folder in my email account and it is routinely full of some very shady junk. More importantly, Americans need the Postal Service to deliver packages that are purchased from online companies. Practically all of us have ordered an item or ten to be delivered to our door, especially now with the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is no logical reason why Congress can’t allow the U. S. Postal Service to start advertising. Perhaps the Post Office will open a few more of those windows that seem to be perpetually closed, staffed by a cheerful clerk who will sell you a roll of stamps with a tiny ad on them.
Congress – do your job and save the U. S. Postal Service.
Kathleen Vallee Stein