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USPS Slowdown Starts in October

Source: Laura Michelle Davis, c|net, September 27, 2021. Provided by BoSacks.

If you're like me, sending a letter or package across the country through the US Postal Service feels like a game of chance. Will it get there in a week -- or two? During the first quarter of this year, around 20% of first-class mail across the US was delivered late. And now snail mail is about to get slower for some of the 160 million residences and businesses that rely on the Postal Service.

Starting October 1, the USPS will implement new service standards for its first-class mail and packages, lengthening the delivery time for about 30% of its volume. That means some letters, parcels and magazine subscriptions traveling longer distances could take up to five days to arrive, instead of two or three days. The changes are part of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's 10-year Delivering for America plan to overhaul the agency and try to tackle its massive debt. The plan, which has generated controversy, would also reduce post office hours, raise postage prices for customers and kick in even more postage hikes during the holiday season. 

Every hour, an average of 17.7 million mail pieces are processed and delivered by the USPS, a portion of which are packages from online retailers like Amazon. But there's been a massive decline in the volume of first-class mail like letters, cards and bills as Americans rely more and more on electronic payments and communication. And with the rising demand for e-commerce, the agency is struggling to match the quick delivery of competitors like UPS, FedEx and even Amazon itself, which has its own delivery network.  

What do the USPS service changes mean for you? Costlier or erratic mail delivery could lead to delays in wedding invitations, birthday cards, unemployment checks or child tax credit payments. Below, we'll explain the major changes you should know about, who the USPS price hikes and delays could affect most, what to do if you're facing a USPS hold up, and what options you have to send mail. This story has been updated. 

What is the USPS' cost-cutting plan about?

The Postal Service has said it's struggling to meet high-performance standards, and it's been financially underwater for a while now. The COVID pandemic exacerbated the USPS' sluggish service and cash crisis, as staffing shortages collided with both the surge of online buying for essentials and the influx of 2020 election ballots, which pushed DeJoy into the national spotlight. (More on that below.) 

One way the USPS plans to reduce costs is by using fewer airplanes to ship mail and instead use more trucks, which can deliver a higher volume of mail for less money. Ground transportation is also more reliable than air in all seasons, according to the USPS. 

The Postal Service's 10-year plan also includes a multibillion-dollar contract to modernize the ancient delivery vehicle fleet, with the new trucks appearing on carrier routes in 2023. There are also proposed investments in equipment and infrastructure to help transport the growing volume of packages more efficiently, as well as upgrades to postal facilities. 

When asked for comment, a USPS spokesperson said the new service standards will increase delivery reliability, consistency and efficiency for customers. 

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