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Mailman Where's my Check? - The Death of First Class Mail Delivery Standards and what this Means for America

Updated on February 1, 2015
Mel Carriere profile image

Although many are mystified by his mysterious moniker, Mel Carriere is a San Diego mailman who writes about the mail, among other things.

Support your local post office this winter - hug a frozen letter carrier.
Support your local post office this winter - hug a frozen letter carrier. | Source

Don't Shoot Me, I'm only the Messenger

I've been delivering a new route since late September. This is not very long by postal standards, so I am still getting to know the people on the route and they continue to eye me cautiously to see if I am going to measure up to the last letter carrier, who was there for about nine years. Although there are some wonderful people in these neighborhoods I deliver to daily, there are a few tough customers who have lingering suspicions and are predisposed to blame all of their mail delivery problems on the "new guy."

Week before last a female customer whose street I had just just delivered drove up to me on the next block to inquire about a check she was expecting from Texas. Although she was doing her best to be civil, I could see impatience bursting through the seams and knew that she was prepared to blow a fuse in my face if I gave her any sort of provocation. "This has never happened before," she growled at me, a not so subtle insinuation that the missing check must be because the new letter carrier (me) had somehow misplaced or misdelivered the item. I spoke to her gently, in the tone I often reserve for angry dogs I find yapping at me loudly in front yards, and somehow managed to keep the pressure cooker from bursting open. My explanation was that the Postal Service can't possibly track every letter (a surprisingly high percentage of the public actually think we do) and reassured her that the missing check would probably come in on Tuesday following the Martin Luther King holiday. The conversation ended amicably, though with lingering tension.

Many unsatisfied postal customers like to throw that line "This has never happened before" in the face of the new mailman for shock effect, even though it probably happened just a couple months ago. All the same, as the customer drove away I remembered a few things I wished would have occurred to me during the course of that edgy discourse. I finally realized that perhaps this truly is the first time her check hasn't arrived on time, and the delay could have been due to new postal regulations initiated on January 6th of this year that have significantly lowered delivery standards for first class mail. Her poor little check,sitting lonely and friendless in some massive Texas mail processing center, just might not be getting the same kind of attention it got before. The new rules are allowing the poor fellow to age a bit before being given its boarding pass and booked on a flight to California, and in the process the "Service" part of "Postal Service" is being seriously degraded, to the detriment of the American people the agency is Constitutionally mandated to serve.

Even rover gets upset when master's mail is delayed.
Even rover gets upset when master's mail is delayed. | Source

So Where is my Check?

Since starting this article a few days ago the reduction of first class mail delivery standards have taken a more personal toll. It's one thing to complain about a late check when that check belongs to a postal customer, and quite another when that check contains funds that one of your own family members depends upon to pay the rent.

My son, who lives 500 miles up the coast in San Jose, receives a student loan check every semester from the registrar at San Jose State University, where he is enrolled. Although he has probably spent hours standing in line in the financial aid office trying to rectify the situation, the University bureaucracy continues to send the check to me in San Diego, probably because the loan is in both of our names and I am the one with a job. Every semester he nervously waits for me to deposit his check so he can have money to spend on those silly little student fraternal frivolities such as rent and food, and probably survival staple items like beer as well.

This semester my son's loan money was sent on the 22nd of January, with plenty of time to deposit the loan check in my account and then send him a personal check for the amount, right? But apparently since first class mail standards have been held for ransom in a misguided and misdirected effort to keep the post office from bleeding red ink, this process is no longer a slam dunk at all. I didn't receive the check until January 27th, five days later, during which time my son's phone calls became increasingly frequent and frantic. "Where's my check, where's my check?" he cried out with growing volume and intensity.

I understand that we can't very well expect mail from San Jose to zoom 500 miles down the coastline overnight, but five days seems ridiculously sluggish. I could have driven up the coast myself, dropped off his check, stayed overnight and then driven back in less than half of those five days. As it stands now he only had four days left after I got the check to pay his rent, and although the money finally landed in my hands I wasn't going to trust the post office to deliver my personal check to him by the first of the month. Although I can on occasion shake the pom-poms with the loudest and prettiest of the postal cheerleaders (even though I don't look that cute in a skirt), on this occasion I have foregone the Postal Service and decided to bite the bullet and just pay the 25 dollar bank transfer fee so he can have the money in his account by the first. That's what it's coming to, folks.


Perhaps by putting my son's check in a bottle and tossing it into the surf it would have arrived in San Jose quicker.
Perhaps by putting my son's check in a bottle and tossing it into the surf it would have arrived in San Jose quicker. | Source

Sounds like a Personal Problem, Right?

Many of you out there are stroking your sophisticated, well groomed, wizened beards and saying to me "Okay, Mel those are some fine anecdotes, but you're just one mailman complaining about the mail being slow. How do we really know that this is happening all over?"

In response I say that it hasn't even been a month since the first class mail service standards were reduced and people across the fruited plain are already starting to write angry letters to their Congressmen. In response to this public outcry, on January 27th Republican Dave McKinley from West Virginia and Democrat Paul Tonko from Minnesota sponsored House Resolution 54, which urges the Postal Service to "...take all appropriate measures to restore the service standards that were in effect as of July 1, 2012." Representatives on both sides of the aisle have climbed on board with this resolution, demonstrating that whether the state of residence is red or blue Americans are accustomed to receiving their mail in a timely fashion. People like that lady on my route, whose livelihoods have put in limbo because of a missing check or some other urgent piece of correspondence, are now starting to flood the phone lines and stuff the mailboxes servicing Capitol Hill.

In 2012, when the new first class standards that took effect in January 2015 were approved, 42 percent of all first class mail was delivered overnight, an additional 27 percent within two days, and another 30 percent within 3 days. That meant only a paltry one percent of first class mail was delivered in as long as 4 to 5 days. Since the new service standards took effect, both my customer's and my son's checks both fell into this one percent category, meaning that within three weeks or so of being enacted the reductions are already having detrimental repercussions on people's lives and livelihoods.

In the light of recent bank and department store hacking incident "snail mail" once again appears to be the safest and most reliable option, but if the Postal Service is dismantled and privatized good old snail mail may become prohibitively pricey.
In the light of recent bank and department store hacking incident "snail mail" once again appears to be the safest and most reliable option, but if the Postal Service is dismantled and privatized good old snail mail may become prohibitively pricey. | Source

Network "Rationalization"

The reduction in First Class mail delivery standards goes hand in hand with the deceptively named "Network Rationalization" process, whereby 141 mail processing facilities across the country have already been shut down and 82 more are scheduled to be closed this year. With fewer processing plants to handle the first class mail there is no way the delivery standards that have been in effect for the last 40 years can be maintained, and hence we have the reason why outgoing Postmaster General Pat Donahoe was driven to change the regulations governing first class mail.

Postal Customers patiently waiting by mailboxes across the width and breadth of the land would be wise to beware of confusing euphemisms like "Network Rationalization." Although such phrases have been deliberately devised to sound agreeable to the ear, in reality they disguise a darker, more insidious agenda.

Dictionary.com defines the word "rationalization" as follows: "to ascribe (one's acts, opinions, etc.) to causes that superficially seem reasonable and valid but that actually are unrelated to the true, possibly unconscious and often less creditable or agreeable causes." In this sense rationalization may not be a euphemism at all, but may actually perfectly describe the motives governing the measures taken in the Postal boardroom at 1 l'Enfant Plaza.

What are these "...less creditable or agreeable causes" behind the reduction in First Class mail standards, the plot to end Saturday mail delivery, and this Network Rationalization scheme? Politicians have long been in the back pockets of corporations like UPS and FedEx, both of whom would receive inestimable benefits by getting rid of the postal competitor. Eliminating service standards through the manipulation of Congressmen and their agents (said agents including certain butts in the seats around the Postal boardroom table), is another step down the path to eroding the public's confidence in the Postal Service and bringing about the privatization of what is still the most affordable and reliable delivery service in the world. Since the current rate to mail a package is approximately four times higher with the Post Office's competitors, it stands to reason that the rates for first class mail would rise by approximately the same amount under privatization, meaning that the stamp that costs you 49 cents would increase to about $2.00. Imagine the bite that stack of eight or nine bills sitting atop your kitchen table will take out of your bank account at two bucks a pop. So I'll just switch to online bill pay, you say - and I guess that's okay if you want to run the risk of getting your bank account hacked online when you submit your payment information. More and more the old reliable "snail mail" is looking like the safest, most secure option, but if the Constitutionally guaranteed Postal Service is dismantled, good old Snail Mail will be a considerably costly choice for everybody.


Senator Jon Tester to Postmaster General Megan Brennan:  "I live in the sticks and I'm telling you the Postal Service is critically important for rural America."
Senator Jon Tester to Postmaster General Megan Brennan: "I live in the sticks and I'm telling you the Postal Service is critically important for rural America." | Source

Cutting the Rural Lifeline

This reduction in First Class Mail delivery standards is particularly painful in rural areas, where residents living out on the dusty ends of dirt roads look upon the Postal Service as a lifeline. Unfortunately, that life giving intravenous feed has been cut to a slow drip and the patient is flailing about in the hospital bed, begging for mercy.

In an attempt to preserve the sanctity and reliability of the Postal Service in general, and in particular to protect the US mail lifeline in his largely rural state, Senator Jon Tester of Montana stepped forward on January 30th to express his concerns in a meeting with incoming Postmaster General Megan Brennan. Senator Tester told her that for Montana residents "...the Postal Service's delivery standards have become a disaster for USPS and for the Montana families that rely on the Postal Service to deliver medication, election ballots and ultimately, to stay connected." The Senator has a very valid point. A Montana rancher living 50 miles from the nearest CVS or Rite Aid cannot readily run to the drugstore to refill a prescription. This rancher, like millions of Americans living out on the back roads, has trusted the mail for many of life's necessities, and this reliability has eroded quickly since the implementation on these new service standards. Said Tester to PMG Brennan "I live in the sticks and I'm telling you the Postal Service is critically important for rural America."

It's not just in the "sticks," Senator, that people are suffering from the effects of sluggish mail delivery, but the negative ramifications are certainly multiplied in those places where roads are sometimes unreliable and the distances between settlements are vast.

Are you "mad as hell" too?
Are you "mad as hell" too? | Source

Conclusion - So Write your Congressman!

On Tuesday after the MLK Holiday the customer I introduced early in this article finally received her greatly anticipated and overdue check, and there was peace in the Postal valley once more. As she started to walk away, happily reunited with that once lost, now found monetary instrument, I took the opportunity to make those points about the new postal delivery standards that had slipped my mind before. Her garage is actually a poling place on election day, so I assumed she may be a civic minded citizen inclined to take action on important issues.

Most of the time when people say "So Write your Congressman!" it is simply a rhetorical device that means "I don't really care so please get out of my face." But as I said these words to her upon parting ways I really did want her to do that, and I want everyone reading this article who values timely, affordable, Constitutionally-guaranteed mail delivery to do the same. "The check's in the mail!" is another famous "I'm blowing you off" expression that may also be pertinent and may apply to you. But unless something is done soon, under the new first class mail service standards just because the check is in the mail doesn't mean you're going to get it in your mailbox anytime soon.

Would Postal Privatization be a Benefit to the American People?

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    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Pressure your elected officials in Washington Cyndi10 and we can bring this back to where it was before. Thanks for reading!

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 2 years ago from Georgia

      Now I understand why a letter just going across town (I live in a large metropolitan area) now takes longer than just the 1 day it previously took. Thins are nothing like they were when my uncle delivered the mail. Thank you for the sad revelations.

      Take care.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      The mail is still a lifeline Dana Tate and with all the recent bank hacking people are starting to depend on good old snail mail again. Too bad the service has slowed when people really need it. Thanks for reading!

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 2 years ago from LOS ANGELES

      Nothing is worse than sitting around waiting on a check in the mail. Subconsciously we sit around thinking of all the things that can happen and when the check doesn't come when we expect it...! It seems to only happen when your money is tight.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      I find that rwgrettable Stella that the Chinese and Germans beat us to the punch. I think if more people like you contact their Congress person we can get our mail back to normal. Thanks for reading!

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 2 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      I laughed while reading your hub as the snail fits the part so good. I order one part for a guitar I am restoring from California, one from China, and one from Germany. All three were ordered the same day. The one from China got here first and was free shipping. You already know the one that came last. A great hub, and so true. Stella

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Larry Rankin. Glad you dropped by.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Fascinating read.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Sorry I missed your comment Deb. You are absolutely right, when people accept it then it becomes the norm. If there is one thing that should not be sacrificed, it is the service we provide to the American people. Thanks for reading!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      And it will get even worse if we allow it to happen. We just can't do more with less, and when it comes to timely deliveries, like you said, it is totally unacceptable.

    • PurvisBobbi44 profile image

      PurvisBobbi44 2 years ago from Florida

      Hi,

      Thanks for the information I did not know this was happening. It will probably hurt the people in our rural area that does business by checks only.

      The word service is becoming more dormant in our society today than ever before. Customer service is lacking in most businesses and now the Postal Service will be slower than before---which does not put a smile on most people's faces.

      Bobbi Purvis

      I will share with Twitter and pin on my re-pin board at Pinterest.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      Yup! Sad thing! Thank you for letting us know about all this!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks for letting us know about this. The budget problems are due to a bill passed by Republicans in an attempt to force the postal service into bankruptcy. So complain to your congressman is the right advice, especially if your Congressman is a Republican. Voted up and shared.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Creative. America is starting to feel the effects of this bone headed policy. I appreciate you dropping in!

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Voted thumbs up/very interesting. While I do almost everything "digitally", I know the USPS changes have affected many - and in a none too positive way! Sad...

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you hunting box. I look forward to your sportsman articles as well. I appreciate you dropping in!

    • hunting box profile image

      Hunter Hal 2 years ago from Upstate New York

      Mel, I enjoy your writing style and have taken the time to read some of your articles. Great job, I'll be reading a lot more. Your an interesting author with something to say

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you PAINTDRIPS. Just today I was approached by another young man missing a check that comes from Texas. He thought it was because of the weather. I told him probably not. I think the longer this goes on the more we will hear about it. Thanks for reading!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Mel, thanks a lot for this. It explains as lot. I had been wondering what's going on but don't want to be one of those people who attack the messenger. We used to live in the rural backwoods but now we live in town. You are right about the mail being the lifeline.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank You DDE. As with anything else there are good days and bad days. I appreciate you dropping in.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Sounds like you have a lot to put with. I like reading about your funny and interesting adventures.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you BlossomSB. With all these computer hacks snail mail is gathering momentum again. Thanks for reading!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you AliciaC. I consider it my sacred duty to try to make people smile so I'm glad you enjoyed it. I think in your native Canada they are trying privitization so I hope they don't do that here. I appreciate you dropping in!

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      We have similar problems in Australia, too. Once we had delivery twice a day and on Saturday mornings. We went overseas and came home to an 'improved' mail system - once a day and none on weekends.

      Love your picture of the snail. I once wrote a hub on snail mail - wish I'd thought of that idea.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a very interesting hub, just like all your other hubs, Mel. I know that it's more sad than funny, but I couldn't help laughing when I read that you could have driven to San Jose, stayed overnight and returned before the check got there by mail. I hope conditions in the postal service improve, although that sounds like it's going to be a challenge based on what you've written.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Unfortunately I know exactly how you feel Brie.

    • Brie Hoffman profile image

      Brie Hoffman 2 years ago from Manhattan

      Well Mel..I don't have much in it so if they hack me, they truly are desperate!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Very well said Bill. I should pay you to ghost write for me because I could not have said it better. Good luck to your Seahawks today. I will be cheering for them because Pete Carroll seems like such a cool boss and lord knows we need more of them. Thanks for reading!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Brie Hoffman that is a lovely compliment because I try hard to make these dull subjects appeal to everyone. I hope your online banking service doesn't get hacked. Snail Mail Baby...Snail mail baby!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      I am glad you are complaint free, breakfastpop. I hope you remain so. A lack of complaint with our current system of mail delivery would be a worthwhile letter to a Congress person as well. Thanks for reading!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Eric Dierker your letter to Susan Davis should be overnight still if you send it to her local office, but if you send it to Washington all bets are off. I just want to chime in in favor of butt shots, which are nice, but they do have their time and place and the 6 o'clock news is probably not it. Thanks for reading!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Old Poolman. It is gratifying to hear you have had a positive postal experience. Letter Carriers like to take ownership of our customers and we treat them as an extended family. You are right about politicians, which is why I think we need term limits, but that's another hub altogether way down the line. I always appreciate your visits. Enjoy your Super Bowl.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I am not a fan of most governmental agencies. I have made that obvious in many of my articles. Having said that, there are times when a governmental agency seems to much a part of the American fabric that I consider it crucial. The Postal Service is one of those. This is part of who we are...the postman delivering the mail daily....dropping it off...waving to neighbors...saying hello to the little old woman who is lonely....I just don't want to see this agency die, and I have no logical reason for that...it is all based on nostalgia and a need for this country to get back to its roots.

    • Brie Hoffman profile image

      Brie Hoffman 2 years ago from Manhattan

      I would never have guessed in a million years that I would enjoy an article about mail, but I did. You are a very good writer and I thoroughly enjoy your articles. Even when the topic sounds like something I couldn't care less about you make it interesting and funny.

      Oh and btw I haven't mailed a check in years..online banking baby..online banking!

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 2 years ago

      I still have no complaints!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Aha! I knew there was something askew with my mail delivery. This change sure did not meet our media standards for being reported. It would seem that this effects everyone but is not as important as a butt shot of a "celebrity".

      How long will it take to get my letter to Susan Davis my congresswoman?

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 2 years ago

      Mel, This is the first I have heard of this but it is no surprise. Fortunately the only things I normally receive in the mail are bills and junk.

      I have written my Congressman on many occasions, and get back a canned form letter thanking me for my interest in an entirely different subject. A phone call gets me to some aide who promises he will convey my message to the Senator. Of course I never get any response.

      It is getting very apparent out elected representatives could care less what we think. Once the election is over and they plant their butts in those soft chairs they are done with us until the next election.

      UPS gives great service but is getting very expensive. When I get a notice I am being sent a package by FedEx I already know there will be a delivery problem. Even though they have delivered to my rural location many times, they can never find me again.

      I rarely if ever have a problem with packages shipped by the USPS. They have delivered packages when the address was incorrect but the local carrier knew exactly were to deliver the item. This would not happen with UPS or FedEx,

      It was Congress who would not let the USPS stop Saturday delivery to cut costs. Like they work on Saturday and might get something from one of us in the mail?

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you DzyMsLizzy. If your letter carrier is not in uniform he or she is either a trainee under 90 days or a rural carrier, who are not required to wear uniforms. Our stanp is still far cheaper than any other country in the free world, and a package that ships for 13 with us is 60 dollars with UPS. I appreciate you dropping in.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Ron ElFran. It hasn't even been a month yet and I have felt it, and the reaction from Democrat and Republican lawmakers alike tells me they are getting calls from their constituents. I appreciate you dropping in.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

      I am old enough to remember when it only cost two cents to mail a postcard, and a nickel to mail a first class letter.

      In my experience, every time the price of a stamp has gone up, the service has gone down in one area or another.

      In our current area (inside city limits, but semi-rural by lot sizes), the postal carriers drive, rather than walk their routes, rarely stepping out of their vehicles.

      Our mailbox was originally across the street, with several others, and as I had a bad knee that could give out on me, I had quite a battle with the P.O. to get my box moved to my own driveway, as doing a face-plant in the middle of the street, should my knee give out, did not interest me. (I finally prevailed, but was told "not to tell" any of the other neighbors that I had won!!)

      As far as the other "services" go, with their much higher rates, I don't know how they stay in business, and as well, there are many rural areas to which they refuse to deliver; those areas are not served at all by the Postal competitors. I ran into this one time years back, trying to send an item someone had bought from me on e-bay. I had to use the Post office, even though at that time, for that item, it cost me more for the insurance than I would have paid for the competitor pricing, with their built-in insurance.

      (What about uniforms? Time was, letter carriers were required to be in uniform; nowadays, this seems at best optional! I miss knowing for sure, by the uniform, that the substitute carrier is, for sure, legitimate by virtue of the uniform.)

      Your article was well written, and with humor; and the inside scoop is appreciated. Voted up, interesting and useful.

      Oh--and did you hear the one about the FedEx/UPS merger? It's going to be called, "Fed-UP!" :-D

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Mel, I hadn't heard about this lowering of the postal standard before. Maybe it was on the news and I just missed it. Though many of us have moved away from dependence on USPS, there still are times, as with your customer, when we are at its mercy. But also like your customer, most people probably don't have a clue about the change, so there may not be much of an outcry. Thanks for alerting us.