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It’s time to send Postal Service into the future

Since the pandemic hit U.S. shores last year, mail service has been slower and, in some cases, halted altogether due to USPS staff shortages and an overwhelming spike in the need for delivered goods. At four post offices on the South and Southwest sides of Chicago, mail delivery has gotten so far behind, residents are getting desperate for their medications; they’re late paying their bills; and some are still waiting for Christmas presents.

It’s frustrating for anyone who relies on snail mail for the essentials.

But in an odd way, the Postal Service stumbles have highlighted the need for the post office, a relic that has been struggling to stay relevant in our increasingly digital world of online bill paying, Facebook messaging and online banking options. Who needs to send a check through the mail when you’ve got Venmo?

But millions of people still rely on the post office to communicate with loved ones and to receive prescriptions, employment checks and important documents — in addition to the piles of advertisements and solicitations. The outcry from residents here and far, some standing in long lines in frigid temperatures, demonstrate its relevance.

This is a moment for the post office not to step back, but to get from Congress what it needs to be more efficient: flexibility.

Ten years ago as it became obvious fewer people were buying stamps and using first class mail services, the Postal Service begged Congress to let it be more limber. USPS is largely a self-funded agency. In 2011, as it looked at its balance sheet, the Postal Service considered eliminating overnight delivery; reducing the number of underused post offices and partnering with stores instead; and getting rid of Saturday deliveries.

Congress said no. The Postal Service must adapt to our new high-tech world, and it’s now up to Congress to come up with a plan.

Lending federal (taxpayer) money to an inefficient postal service is not the answer. Flexibility is. Now is the time to leverage the demand from consumers and get congressional mandates off the back of USPS. To make the service better — not with more money but with flexibility. On that question, Congress needs to say yes.

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