Government Shutdown 2021: Will the Post Office Be Open?

Mail Carrier Sorting the mail.
BassittART / Getty Images

With the debt ceiling deadline looming — Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said yesterday that Treasury is “likely to exhaust its extraordinary measures if Congress has not acted to raise or suspend the debt limit by October 18” — how will this affect the United States Postal Service?

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The debt ceiling limits the total amount of money the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt and tax refunds. It does not authorize new spending commitments. It simply allows the government to finance existing legal obligations that Congresses and presidents of both parties have made in the past, according to the Treasury Secretary.

However, the USPS doesn’t receive tax dollars for operating expenses. It funds its operations via the sale of postage, products and services.

In its 2020 annual financial filing, the USPS said that the Postal Reorganization Act enacted its status as an “independent establishment of the executive branch of the Government of the United States” with the mandate to offer a “fundamental service” to the nation “at fair and reasonable rates.”

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As such, the filing said, the USPS does not receive tax dollars for operating expenses and relies solely on the sale of postal products and services to fund its operations.

However, another, unrelated development might slow down the mail in the coming days. Beginning Oct. 1, the Postal Service will “implement new service standards for first-class mail and periodicals,” USPS spokeswoman Kim Frum told USA Today in an email.  “With this change, we will improve service reliability and predictability for customers while also driving efficiencies across the Postal Service network,” Frum said.

While first-class mail and periodicals traveling within the same region will continue to be delivered within two to three days, mail traveling long distances will be most affected, with additional transit time added for some first-class mail and periodicals, according to an announcement.

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The changes to service-standard times are part of the Postal Service’s 10-year strategic plan, which was announced by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in March, USA Today reported. The plan has drawn heavy criticism from elected officials.

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According to an announcement in May, “the Postal Service’s 10-year plan reverses a projected $160 billion in losses over the next ten years. The Plan will spur cash flow and savings to make $40 billion in capital investments over the next 10 years — including $20 billion towards USPS’ mail and package processing network, facility upgrades and procurement of new processing equipment.”

In addition, starting Oct. 3 and continuing through Dec. 26, the Postal Service will implement a “temporary price adjustment for key package products for the 2021 peak holiday season,” according to an announcement.

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About the Author

Yaël Bizouati-Kennedy is a former full-time financial journalist and has written for several publications, including Dow Jones, The Financial Times Group, Bloomberg and Business Insider. She also worked as a vice president/senior content writer for major NYC-based financial companies, including New York Life and MSCI. Yaël is now freelancing and most recently, she co-authored  the book “Blockchain for Medical Research: Accelerating Trust in Healthcare,” with Dr. Sean Manion. (CRC Press, April 2020) She holds two master’s degrees, including one in Journalism from New York University and one in Russian Studies from Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, France.

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