Delivering Health: How Disinvestment and Sabotage at the USPS Threatens Public Health

By Christine Mitchell, Martha Ockenfels-Martinez, Jamie Sarfeh, & Sophia Simon-Ortiz

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Cuts and slow downs at USPS threaten public health

Over the past month, much of the news surrounding service slow downs and impending budget cuts at the United States Postal Service (USPS) has focused on the threats posed to voting in the upcoming November elections. Voter disenfranchisement is a real and urgent concern, as so many will depend on mail-in ballots to safely cast their votes this year amidst the ongoing pandemic. Yet less attention has been paid to the wide-ranging public health impacts of budget cuts and changes to USPS service proposed by newly-appointed postmaster Louis DeJoy, a major Trump donor with hefty personal investments in private USPS competitors.

DeJoy’s moves are only the most recent chapter in a long pattern of divestment from the USPS, part of a broader trend of divestment from our most critical public services, all with dire impacts on health. And though DeJoy — in response to public outcry over impeding vote-by-mail in November — has temporarily walked back some of the sweeping changes that would further limit USPS service and lead to increased delays, he has not committed to reinstating all services. As the USPS continues to face perilous budget cuts, the public health risks of shrinking mail service remain.

Bolstered by massive outcry and support, advocates and USPS workers are leading the charge to preserve and protect USPS. Right now, they’re calling for congressional action to fully fund USPS by the end of the summer, removal of DeJoy as postmaster, and a full reversal of the dangerous policies implemented under his leadership. We fully support these actions as critical measures to protect public health.

Read on for a closer look at how a fully functioning and funded USPS is imperative to public health, along with actions you can take to support and advocate for solutions.

USPS service keeps our communities healthy

Cuts and slow downs at the USPS harm the health of people who are incarcerated

How do USPS delays impact the health of incarcerated people?

  • When someone who is incarcerated or formerly incarcerated thinks they don’t have strong social support, they are at higher risk of suicide attempts in prison, difficulties in re-entering the community after incarceration, and substance use relapse.
  • Many people who are incarcerated depend on the USPS to mail legal information to their lawyers, in order to receive letters of support for parole, to appeal disciplinary and classification hearing decisions, and other legal reasons — all of which are important to shortening the time people spend incarcerated, and thus improving health.
  • Incarcerated people share information about the conditions inside jails and prisons with community-based organizations via USPS mail service. This is essential to centering the needs of those incarcerated in advocacy work and ensuring that immediate material needs — like healthy food, clean water, and access to healthcare — are met and human rights abuses are exposed.

High-risk groups rely on USPS for delivery of prescription medications — and they’re suffering from service slowdowns

How do USPS delays impact the health of people who need prescription medications delivered?

USPS service disruptions harm our democracy, and the health of individual voters

But in recent primaries, states and counties across the country have seen higher rates of rejected mail-in ballots. More than half a million mail-in ballots were rejected during primaries across 23 states this year. The most common reason ballots are rejected? Because they arrived too late. When votes go uncounted, people’s right to have a say in the policies and decisions that directly impact their health — from employment, to housing, to education –– is taken away. Divestment from the USPS results in mail delivery slow-downs and gaps in service, which greatly contributes to voter disenfranchisement and harms health.

How do USPS delays impact the health of voters?

  • The act of voting is important for both individual and community health — people who vote are more likely to be in better health, and have fewer depressive symptoms than those who don’t.
  • Restrictions to mail service take away people’s right to vote, and disenfranchise already-marginalized communities. For example, many Indigenous communities already face disenfranchisement due to a widespread lack of postal services.
  • Experts report that voters of color and younger voters are more likely to have their ballots rejected, increasing pre-existing voter inequities from long-standing racial voter suppression, which includes voter roll purges, redistricting, voter ID laws, and the way people in prison are counted in the census.
  • Disenfranchisement and inequities in voting create a ripple effect for community health in each state. People who live in states with more voting inequity are more likely to self-rate their health as poor; whereas those living in states with more voter equity have better self-rated health.

Take Action to Support USPS

Support postal workers’ organizing

Actions to take:

Christine Mitchell is a Research Associate with the Health Instead of Punishment program at Human Impact Partners. She values partnering with grassroots organizations doing liberative work on the ground and providing organizers with public health research support on the ways that incarceration and policing impact the health of people and communities.

Martha Ockenfels-Martinez is a Research Associate at Human Impact Partners. She supports the research needs of community partners across the country that are advancing equity and justice. She brings her background in local and state policymaking, community organizing, and advocacy to her work at HIP.

Jamie Sarfeh is the Communications Director at Human Impact Partners. She is passionate about the power of language to shape and build collective action, and brings her background in organizing and strategic communications to work towards a vision of health equity rooted in liberation.

Sophia (Sophie) Simon-Ortiz works on organizing and advocacy at Human Impact Partners and coordinates the Public Health Awakened network. She is passionately dedicated to building the organizing and advocacy power of public health workers across the country and to bridging health justice work with other social justice movements.

📌 Did you know? Human Impact Partners provides health equity capacity building to public health organizations. Contact us to learn more about our offerings at info[at]humanimpact.org.

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