REGIONAL—Post offices in N’West Iowa report a significant uptick in packages as the coronavirus continue to influence people to shop online.
“We’re looking at about a 40 percent increase,” said Nicole Hill, strategic communications specialist for U.S. Postal Service operations in Iowa. “And that’s not isolated to any one place, it’s pretty broad.”
The increase is most noticeable in post offices serving small populations.
The Archer Post Office, serving a town of about 120, ordinarily handles seven or eight packages per day, according to postmaster Richard Ludeke.
That number increased by as much as 400 percent after COVID-19 hit.
“We’ve had days when we’ve gone over 40 packages, so it’s a huge, huge jump,” Ludeke said.
The Archer post office is staffed by two employees and has limited hours, but Ludeke said he has never had to compromise delivery. Even with more packages coming, the culture of small towns helps everyone get their mail on time.
“I’ll call people to let people know they have a package they can come pick up,” Ludeke said. “If they work and we’re closed, I’ll say ‘meet me at the post office’ and I’ll just walk up. That’s what small towns are all about.”
These small-town courtesies could be threatened by potential operational changes under the leadership of Louis DeJoy, who became postmaster general on June 15.
Possible changes include eliminating overtime and requiring carriers to leave behind late-arriving mail rather than waiting to deliver it that day.
“By running our operations on time and on schedule, and by not incurring unnecessary overtime or other costs, we will enhance our ability to be sustainable and to be able to continue to provide high-quality, affordable service,” DeJoy said in a statement given Aug. 7 to the Postal Service Board of Governors.
Hill declined to comment on whether any changes to postal services procedures are forthcoming.
Although the Postal Service has been running in the red for more than a decade and was authorized to borrow up to $10 billion from the U.S. Treasury Department through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act for expenses incurred because of COVID-19, it remains the most accessible and affordable shipping method available in rural areas.
The N’West Iowa coverage area is served by 32 post offices. There is one post office for every 2,000 people.
Locals report using the Postal Service for shopping but also for sending gifts and care packages and even running small businesses.
Amy Solsma of Solsma’s Punkin Patch & Fireworks east of Sanborn uses the Postal Service’s Priority Mail shipping to send her iconic Ruby Red popcorn to customers all over the country.
“I appreciate it because I can pick up the boxes and print the labels at home, so I can actually ship them out at home which is pretty handy,” Solsma said.
Although her local hardware store provides UPS shipping, she said the Postal Service has been the most affordable and reliable option for delivering her products.
Iowa voters can expect to rely on the Postal Service again this fall.
The Iowa Secretary of State’s Office will mail absentee voter applications to all registered voters in advance of Election Day. Voters can use these forms to request an absentee ballot and mail in their vote before Nov. 3.
Mailing absentee ballot applications without requiring voters to request them in advance was first attempted ahead of Iowa’s June 2 primary with great results.
Nearly 78 percent of votes cast in June’s primary were by mail. The June 2 primary broke a 26-year-old record for highest turnout.
By contrast, only 17.6 percent of registered voters voted absentee in Iowa’s 2018 primary, and a little more than 18 percent did in 2016.
Hill said the Postal Service is equipped to process this wave of ballots with no delays, pointing out that it is not the highest volume the postal service deals with.
“The USPS will handle over 1.5 billion Christmas cards in one season,” Hill said. “This is not volume we’re not used to, it’s not volume we haven’t heard of, it’s not volume we haven’t dealt with and that we haven’t dealt with successfully.”