The United States Postal Service (USPS) is in the fight of its life. It is bleeding money. Congressional Democrats have asked for $10 billion for the next year to keep it as a viable operation to serve Americans as it has for two centuries. President Trump has turned that down. One reason is that he does not want to support vote-by-mail options for the upcoming election. That leaves the USPS in a position where it loses some of its logistics capacity. The only option it has, and one which may come too late, is to save money.
The USPS needs its 496,934 career workers and 136,174 non-career workers, or almost all of them, to deliver and pick up mail and to run the distribution infrastructure. Carriers are at the heart of the operations. The USPS needs the trucks that support delivery. It needs distribution hubs. But does it need 31,322 post office locations to serve 42,000 Zip codes?
The question of the number of post office locations reopens a controversy that goes back years. Some post office locations service tiny towns or areas with very few people. Congress occasionally has considered shuttering some of these. However, no member of Congress wants the shutdowns to be within their districts. Consequently, the battle has gone nowhere.
Some post offices have only a handful of people. Whether closing these will save a lot of money is open to analysis. There is, however, a constant cost to move mail to and from these locations.
What happens if the number of post offices shrinks? People will have to use their carriers to pick up and deliver mail, which has gone on for years. Can the carriers handle tens of millions of ballots quickly? That is at the heart of the fight between the president and Congress.
If there is no additional money to underwrite the USPS, something will have to give. That something may a number of the 31,322 post offices.