'Half of my monthly income is just missing ... I have no idea when it'll get here.'
Byran McMahon, who lives and works in Washington D.C., still hasn't received his paycheck since his employer mailed it July 30 — three weeks ago.
"I live less than 15 miles away from my office, and it usually only takes 2 or 3 days to get here," he says.
His employer doesn't have direct deposit, and the office is closed due to the pandemic. "I'm completely depending on the [post office] to get my paychecks."
Across the country, people are reporting severe mail delays that are affecting their health and financial livelihoods. The U.S. Postal Service has faced financial troubles for years, but the recent delays are due in part to the coronavirus pandemic: In three months, from April to June, the Postal Service said it lost $2.2 billion, according to the Associated Press.
Adding to the problems were policies enacted by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who assumed his position in June. DeJoy has donated $1.2 million to Donald Trump's campaigns since 2016 and also has investments in companies that compete with the Postal Service, The New York Times reported.
DeJoy has since enacted a number of measures meant to cut costs, such as removing postal boxes, limiting postal office hours, and banning employees from working overtime.
Hundreds of Americans like McMahon saw the first effects of the DeJoy's changes. "Luckily I've been able to cover my bills this month, so far by using the emergency savings I had and putting other stuff on my credit card," he says.
Finances have already been tight since his wife lost one of her jobs due to the pandemic, so he says he doesn't know what he would've done without that savings — or what he'll do if his paychecks continue to be delayed.
"Mostly I've just been really stressed that half of my monthly income is just missing, and I have no idea when it'll get here," he says.
In the last few weeks, DeJoy has faced nationwide backlash over the operational changes, as well as a lawsuit filed in a Manhattan federal court on Aug. 17 accusing him and Trump of trying to deliberately prevent the postal service from being able to deliver election mail on time.
On Aug. 18, he announced that he would suspend the changes until after the 2020 election. But the Times reported that it's unclear whether DeJoy will reverse some of what has already been enacted, such as the removal of hundreds of postal boxes.
In the meantime, the House will soon consider a measure that would add $25 billion in emergency funding for the Postal Service — but for some Americans, it might come too late. Many, like McMahon, have already had paychecks delayed, others haven't received medications that are delivered by mail, which could have deadly impacts.
Gloria Navarro, whose husband has diabetes, says his medication has been delayed for three weeks. It usually takes 7-10 days to get to them.
"We are ordering double so that we have an overlap and don’t run out," she says. "If my husband’s meds are not available (he takes 6 meds per day) he will eventually go into a diabetic coma or have a stroke."
Navarro says his medications usually cost them about $500 per month, but they are now paying $1,000 to have extra in case the mail continues to be delayed.
"We are very fortunate that we both have very good jobs and are considered essential employees, so we currently have job security," she says. "We still worry about all the other people who cannot absorb the cost of doubling up their meds."
She warns that "people are going to die" as a result of what she calls a "criminal act" being carried out by the administration.
Caroline Ball says her 94-year-old mother, whom she cares for, also didn't receive one of her medications for nearly two weeks. Luckily, her mom had enough of her vital heart medication, though she went without one of her blood thinning prescriptions for about four days.
"It's just wrong," Ball says.
She wrote to her state senators, Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida, and says she received general replies that didn't address anything she said in her email. "I was a little insulted because what else can you do but write your congressman or senators?" she says. "I've been frustrated for a while. It's just, how can this happen?"
Across the United States, people have largely echoed Ball's sentiment.
Carol Mossa, who lives in Rhode Island and teaches a business class a few times a month in Massachusetts, says she drove three hours round trip to pick up a check that had been delayed for almost two weeks. "This is just not right," she says. "I read that DeJoy suspended some of the things that he's done, but not good enough guys. Shit's still sitting in the post offices."
Problems caused by the delays are piling up for Americans, and the COVID-19 pandemic complicates things further and leaves people with few options.
Delayed checks can set people — many of whom are already unemployed or struggling financially due to the pandemic — further behind on bills. Some could face eviction. Others who don't get their medications on time might consider going out to pick them up, risking exposure to the virus.
Americans have few options but to write to their elected representatives and hope for relief.
"I have a chronic heart condition, and I get my prescriptions filled through [the Postal Service] so that I don't have to come into the hospital pharmacy during the pandemic," McMahon says. "I'm also really worried about getting my medications on time... If my medications get delayed, I'm not sure what I'll do."
Americans will likely see no reprieve from the White House anytime soon. Trump said on Aug. 13 that he doesn’t support Democrats’ move to increase funding for the post office because he wants to make it harder to vote by mail. (He has repeatedly falsely claimed that it leads to fraud while still voting by mail himself.) He walked back back those comments hours later, saying he would sign a funding bill and that he simply wants to protect election integrity.
But his back-and-forth comments have at least had a widespread effect: Americans are flooding election officials with questions about whether vote-by-mail ballots will count.
The future of the post office, meanwhile, and its vital role in Americans’ lives — especially amid a pandemic — remains uncertain.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.