Spending

Can buying stamps actually help save the USPS? Here's what experts say

With uncertainty surrounding the U.S. Postal Service, many people have been buying stamps. Does buying stamps actually make a difference to the USPS?

Twenty/20

Problems with the U.S. Postal Service have put stamps on more people's shopping lists. But your postage purchase may not be that helpful.

The Postal Service has a big deficit to make up for: It says it lost $2.2 billion over April, May, and June of this year due the coronavirus pandemic. In response, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy instituted numerous changes that, critics claim, resulted in widespread mail delays

Because DeJoy is a Republican donor, Democrats questioned his motives, pointing out the changes could make absentee voting more difficult in November. The backlash grew after President Donald Trump said he was opposed to additional post office funding because it could help limit mail-in voting

In response, DeJoy announced that the USPS would roll back or halt many of the initiatives for now. "To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded," he wrote in a memo.

Still, by that point, there had been days of public outcry. People who wondered what they could do to help had started to buy stamps, adding hashtags to social media posts such as #SaveThePostOffice.

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The USPS could not confirm that it experienced a surge in recent purchases but did point out that sales have been strong all summer. "Over the past several months, the U.S. Postal Service has observed significantly higher stamp sales through our Stamp Fulfillment Services, particularly through the mobile friendly online Postal Store on usps.com," Sara Martin, a PR representative from the USPS, tells Grow. 

Why the USPS matters for your money

On NBC's TODAY show on Monday, Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, pointed out that a well-functioning postal service is vital for other government services beyond voting, many of which can affect your financial life. "People also depend on it for retirement checks, their Social Security. People depend on it to get medication through the mail," she said.

Before June 5, the government sent out about 39 million stimulus payments by mail, including 35 million paper checks and 3.7 million debit cards, according to a report from the Ways and Means Committee

Lots of businesses depend on the USPS as well: Thanks to a surge in online shopping and e-commerce during the pandemic, the post office delivered 708 million more packages from April 1 to June 30 than they did last year during this time — a 50% increase, according to their third-quarter results

Why are people buying stamps? 

The U.S. Postal Service does not get federal funding, meaning that its relies in part on individual purchases for support. According to its website, "The Postal Service receives NO tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations." 

The vitality of the post office and a call to buy stamps has been the focus of nightly news shows, such as "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver." Comedian Billy Eichner tweeted, "Nothing says summer like ordering stamps while crying."

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This way of thinking isn't wrong, says Richard John, a history professor at Columbia University and author of the book "Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse." 

"Of course it helps revenue," John says. "And it gets more people thinking of the Postal Service," an institution many use but can easily take for granted. USPS total revenue was up 3.2% compared to last year, according to their third-quarter results

Still, John is skeptical about how much it helps to have individuals buying stamps.

Will buying stamps actually make a difference? 

"The crux of the problem isn't that too few Americans are writing their grandmothers," John says. "That's not the heart of the issue." 

During the pandemic, spending money at struggling businesses has been a way individuals can stimulate the economy and support places they would like to see make it through the year. However, the same principle doesn't really apply to the post office, John says. 

"The post office is not a business," he says. "It's in the Constitution. It's like oil, or like water, or energy. Congress ultimately holds the goal here."

A more effective use of your time would be to call your senator and "fill up social media" with calls for Congress to act, John suggests. 

The post office is not a business.
Richard John
History professor at Columbia University

"Make it clear that this organization matters to voters," regardless of what state they live in or the political party they are affiliated with, John says. After all, the Postal Service is widely supported by both Democrats and Republicans, according to Morning Consult data

Congress is returning from recess to vote on a bill that would provide the Postal Service with assistance. Senate Republicans are also expected to release a new "skinny" stimulus bill that includes $10 billion in funding for the Postal Service.

"It's great to have a public service that ties us all together," John says. "What's not to like about the post office?" 

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