Post offices, beloved community hubs, fight threat of virus age
Philadelphia Cream • For some of the nearly 2,000 residents of Deer Isle, Maine, year round, the American flag frayed outside the post office this spring was a reminder of the mood of the country.
The flag was in tatters. It twisted in the wind from a single hook. But it was stuck in the high position, so the postwoman could not replace it.
“I was thinking what a metaphor this is for our country right now,” said director of community health René Colson Hudson. “It was really important that the flag be replaced, as a symbol of hope.”
Colson Hudson, a former pastor from New Jersey who moved to the coast of Maine a few years ago, posted an online plea on April 23 that sparked a community thread. Should someone climb the flag pole? Could the local pruner help? Did they need a bucket truck?
By the end of the week, a secret assistant had lowered the flag. The postwoman Stéphanie Black soon got the news out.
Colson Hudson, 54, had rarely visited his post office when she lived in suburban New Jersey. But in Deer Isle, people exchange small conversations in the lobby, advertise school events on the bulletin board, and collect drugs and mail-in ballots – while postal workers watch over everyone’s well-being.
“Here,” she said, “it’s the center of the community.”
A STRUGGLE TO FULFILL
Many of the country’s 630,000 postal workers face new risks during the COVID-19 outbreak as they sort mail or make daily rounds to reach people in remote locations. More than 2,000 of them have tested positive for the virus, and a union spokesperson said 61 workers had died.
For most Americans, home or letterbox mail deliveries are their only routine contact with the federal government. It is a service that they seem to appreciate: the agency regularly obtains “favorability” ratings that exceed 90%.
Still, it’s not popular with an influential American: President Donald Trump, who has threatened to block the U.S. Postal Service from COVID-19 relief funding unless it quadruple the rates for the packages it bills large customers like Amazon, owned by Jeff Bezos. Bezos also owns the Washington Post, the coverage of which angered Trump.
“He is prepared to sacrifice the US Postal Service and its 630,000 employees for petty retribution and personal retaliation against Jeff Bezos,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., Said last week. “It would be a tragic outcome. “
Postal officials, bracing for significant losses given the nationwide coronavirus shutdown, warn they will run out of money by September without help. They reported a loss of $ 4.5 billion for the quarter ending March 31 – on $ 17.8 billion in revenue – before the full effects of the shutdown were felt.
Some in Congress want to set aside $ 25 billion of the nearly $ 3 trillion relief program to keep the mail flowing. But with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pushing Trump’s priorities, the Postal Service has so far only landed a $ 10 billion loan.
“The Postal Service is a joke,” President Donald Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on April 24. “They distribute packages for Amazon and other Internet companies and every time they bring a package, they lose money on it.”
Historically, the postal service has operated without public funds, even since an overwhelming 2006 law required it to pre-fund 75 years of retirement benefits. It’s been around longer than the country itself, with a rich history that includes Benjamin Franklin’s tenure as Postmaster General.
This month, the USPS Board of Directors appointed Republican fundraiser Louis DeJoy at the post. He succeeds Megan Brennan, a career postwoman who is retiring.
The president insists that higher parcel rates could ease the postal service’s financial problems. But most financial analysts disagree. They say customers would turn to UPS or FedEx.
Parcels typically represent 5 percent of the postal service’s volume, but 30 percent of its revenue. And the revenue from the packages actually increased during the shutdown. Yet that was not enough to restore profitability, battered in the Internet age by the decline of first-class mail.
Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, which has 200,000 members, fears that the Trump administration wants to destabilize the agency and then sell it.
With more than 30 million Americans suddenly out of work, he wonders why anyone would endanger “600,000 good paying jobs for a living.”
Yet the president, Dimondstein said, wants to privatize the operation when “here you have the post office serving the people of this country in a way perhaps deeper than ever. “
A 55 CENT TRIP TO ISLE AU HAUT
On Henrietta Dixon’s Postal Route in North Philadelphia, every house has a story. Dixon seems to know them all.
Alvin Fields has returned to his two-story townhouse block after 40 years of working for Verizon. Jason Saal, 40, lives in an abandoned factory he bought for an art studio, but now hopes to make industrial-grade masks there.
Sharae Cunningham also makes masks, but of the hand-sewn kind, some with African prints that she sells for $ 6.
All said they would miss the postal service if it collapsed.
“It’s nice to have the mail delivered by a postman,” said Saal, who posted two boxes of masks through Dixon one recent morning and gave him several free. “This is the person you see, a government employee, every day, Monday through Sunday.”
They agreed the neighborhood, one of the poorest in Philadelphia, would benefit from the kind of extended services – such as low-cost check cashing and wifi – that are standard in Europe and could help post offices. Americans to survive.
“It would be a great service. A lot of people need to cash checks, ”said Cunningham, 40, who helps care for chronically ill parents, four children and a grandchild.
Dixon, who lives nearby, has worked at the post office for almost 30 years, the last nine on his current route. Fields called her “absolutely wonderful”.
Its route, in a dense part of the city, could be attractive to private companies wishing to compete with the Post. But the same 55-cent stamp that carries a letter across town can also send one to the Pacific Northwest, rural Appalachians, or islands off the coasts of Alaska, California, and Maine. This is because of the USPS ‘commitment to providing “universal service” to everyone in the United States, no matter what it takes.
“For the American psyche, this is one of the last places where we are all equal. We are all entitled to 55-cent mail and courier delivery six days a week, ”said Evan Kalish, 30, of Queens, New York, a postal enthusiast who has documented thousands of office visits. post on his blog, Postlandia.
A few miles south of Deer Isle, Postwoman Donna DeWitt goes to a boat dock every morning to pick up her plastic bins from the 7 a.m. mail boat and haul them to the little post office on Isle at the top a few hundred meters.
With no bridge to the mainland and no wifi and irregular cell phone service on the island, postal service is essential for the roughly 70 year-round residents, who work primarily in the fishing and lobster trades.
“I don’t think most alumni, for example, pay their bills online. They depend on the mail for all of their business transactions, ”said George Cole, Isle of Man volunteer president at Haut Boat Services, a non-profit organization that brings the mail on the 45-minute ride from Stonington.
The ferry service derives most of its income from summer tourists, but the small USPS contract helps.
“If we lost him it would be very painful,” Cole said. “We’ve been carrying the mail for 50 years.”
PUMPKIN PLANTS AND ROLLS DEATH ADVISORY
Filmmaker Tom Quinn set out to make a film about a town that lost its zip code – and its place on the map – during a series of USPS closures in 2011. The film became a study of loneliness.
“I started to understand what it was about,” Quinn said, speaking about his 2019 film. “Colewell”, located in a small fictional town on the New York-Pennsylvania border.
In places like these, he said, the post office serves as a living room for the city – a gathering place for conversation, for human contact, for community.
“When this hub is there, you meet people by accident,” said Quinn, who teaches filmmaking at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “It’s the same with Zoom and teaching. None of these accidental interactions are happening anymore. “
In rural Fayette County, West Virginia, Susan Williams fondly remembers the postmasters who left homemade pumpkins for customers, posted a note in the lobby when someone died, and kept her geraniums alive. by mail.
“If I thought these plants were going to arrive while we were gone, she would just open the boxes and water them for us,” said Williams, a retired reporter and teacher who lives in Falls View, about 35 miles east of Charleston.
Without a home delivery there, she drives three miles to Charlton Heights to pick up her mail, trying to arrive after getting it set up at 10:30 a.m. and before the post office closes at noon. Recently, at the end of April, his box contained his postal ballot for the presidential primary. She planned to return it the next day.
“It means everything,” Williams said of the Postal Service.
Back in Maine, Colson Hudson enjoys taking the mail boat to Eagle Island in the summer (population 2 year round; seasonal, maybe 40) to visit friends. She once took a picture of the mailbag, wondering who its contents would be connected to.
“All of these people are flocking as the boat arrives with the mail,” she said. “There is something in this bag that they are waiting for, that they are hoping for.”