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Postal Privatization Could Increase Delivery Costs for Half of All US Zip Codes

If privatization succeeds, 70 million people may well face a return to 19th-century standards of service.

I’ve been a postal clerk for 23 years, serving my customers in a public post office in Gresham, Oregon.

As you might imagine, with the holidays fast approaching, it’s a busy time of year for us. Every day, I help my customers mail letters, cards, and packages across town and across the county. Even when we’re busy, it’s a joy to share a small part in spreading holiday cheer.

Because the Postal Service charges uniform rates across the country, I don’t need to ask you if a package is being sent to a home or a business, or whether the recipient lives in a big city or a distant rural area.

You can select a flat rate box that goes anywhere for one price, no matter what’s inside. Or if you pack your own gift, we price it based on weight and distance. The post office never charges you more to send your gift just because your grandma happens to live out in the country.

If you took your packages to a private delivery firm, on the other hand, you might be hit with extra charges because of where your grandma lives.

On top of their base rates, UPS and FedEx charge more for deliveries to over half of all U.S. ZIP codes — hitting not just Alaska, Hawaii, and other distant areas, but also many small towns. Even suburbs of major cities — like Laveen, just eight miles from Phoenix, and Whites Creek, eight miles from Nashville — can draw extra charges.

According to new research by the Institute for Policy Studies, these ZIP codes are home to around 70 million people.

These extra costs already range up to $4.45 for a package delivered to a home in a rural area. But my real worry is that these extra costs are just a taste of what would happen if the US Postal Service is sold off to private, for-profit corporations.

Last summer, the White House Office of Management and Budget recommended postal privatization in a report on government restructuring. And just in time for the holidays, a presidential task force just made recommendations that would slow down the mail, privatize large portions of the Postal Service, and lead to other service cuts.

If these privatization efforts succeed, millions of people may well face a return to 19th century standards of expensive, private delivery services and limited USPS access.

For the first 121 years of US history, postal services were limited to those in cities. Farmers and other pioneers had to either travel long distances to cities or pay handsomely for private carriers to deliver their mail periodically.

Without competition from the public Postal Service, for-profit firms would likely jack up delivery fees even higher for the 70 million people who already live in areas hit by delivery surcharges.

And of course, USPS doesn’t just ship gifts. Millions of people rely on us for delivery of prescription drugs, medical supplies, and other essential items.

I think of myself as a public servant. I’m glad that the United States Postal Service treats all Americans fairly, regardless of where they live or work. A privatized, for-profit company won’t do that.

If the armfuls of gifts customers bring into my post office are any indication, that means holiday shipping would be a lot more expensive for millions of people.

Let’s protect the world’s finest public postal network, and together insist that the US Mail is Not for Sale.

The views expressed here are the author’s own, not her employer’s.

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