Megan, a 29-year old letter carrier in the Boston area, has been working for the U.S. Postal Service for seven years. It’s the only job she’s had since she graduated from college, where she studied illustration.
For Megan, who asked not to use her last name for fear of endangering her employment, the job provided the promised stability of government work and a decent salary. It gave her the means to buy a condo in her 20s and allowed her to never miss a student loan payment.
But if the USPS doesn’t survive the coronavirus lockdown, she knows that could all change. Already, the body shop where her husband works is laying off workers. He’s been lucky so far.
“I’m terrified with everything else going on. And now they have to put my job on the line also,” she said.
Women make up almost half — or 46.13 percent — of the USPS workforce, said USPS spokesman David Partenheimer.
The agency desperately needs funds, as the pandemic is wreaking further havoc on more than a decade of existing financial woes. Digitalization has cut into mail delivery, and the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which required the service to pre-fund retirement accounts for its workers, has put the service in debt to the tune of $160.9 billion.
The agency has long drawn the ire of President Trump, who recently blocked potential emergency funding for USPS. The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — widely known as the Cares Act — allotted only a $10 billion loan for the agency. Without further measures, the USPS may not make it until Sept. 30, according to projections the agency gave Congress.
“At a time when America needs the Postal Service more than ever, the reason we are so needed is having a devastating effect on our business. The Postal Service relies on the sale of postal products and services to fund our operations, and these sales are plummeting as a result of the pandemic,” Postmaster General Megan Brennan said in a statement.
In addition to the fiscal issues plaguing the agency, postal employees are essential front line workers who face coronavirus exposure on the job.
“Nearly 500 postal workers have tested positive for the coronavirus and 462 others are presumptive positives, USPS leaders told lawmakers. Nineteen have died; more than 6,000 are in self-quarantine because of exposure,” The Washington Post reported.
In response to coronavirus concerns, the Postal Service has allowed some employees to work from home, installed social distancing measures at its offices, and distributed gloves, masks, hand sanitizers and cleaning supplies to staff, according to a news release.
Megan wears a mask and gloves and frequently uses hand sanitizer. But that’s not the only way the pandemic has changed the way she does her job.
With businesses along her seven-mile route closed, she’s now unable to go to the bathroom after 1 p.m., which is when Dunkin’ closes.
“I hold it,” she said.
Amy Bezerra, a letter carrier in Broomfield, Colo., will celebrate her 25th anniversary with the Postal Service in October.
The 51-year old, who says she “loves my job today as much as I did my first day,” is planning to work for the USPS until she retires.
She currently drives, so the distance she walks is now down to “only five miles” a day, crossing the sidewalk to deposit mail along her suburban residential route.
As Colorado responds to the virus, the changes in her work life have been palpable. Bezerra describes herself as a “hugger” and had to maintain a distance on Friday when she unexpectedly saw a teenager she has known since he was a small boy who lived along her route.
She’s outgoing, and misses the rhythm of interactions she has at the mailbox with her customers. Bezerra delivers to a lot of retirees, and is used to catching up with them as she makes her way through her 550 daily stops.
She knows it’s a tough time for her employer. She deals with the uncertainty by knowing the funding situation is “out of her control and I pray we’ll be lucky and someone will come through.”
In the meantime, she hopes that Americans will buy stamps online, and send packages via the Postal Service.
“We go [to everyone’s] house anyway, with letters. That’s the difference between us and UPS or FedEx.”