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Postal Crisis Hits Rural America Hard

Lately, her bills have been slow to come. She said the mail collection box outside her rural post office was among many across the country that were recently locked or removed, until an angry backlash forced the Postal Service to stop. Ms. Sparrevohn said that she planned on voting absentee, but that she would drop off her ballot instead of trust it to the mail.

“I don’t know if it’s going to arrive,” she said.

In Fort Benton, Mont., Leone Cloepfil, 75, started worrying about her mail in July, when her Visa payment was not delivered and she was charged a $35.04 late fee. She had to stop driving recently after the numbness in her foot got so bad that she could no longer feel the pedals, so she said she had no choice but to trust her ballot to the mail.

“I can’t say I’m 100 percent sure,” she said. “It’s a mess.”

Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat in rural Montana, has received 4,800 calls about the Postal Service since the pandemic began. One of the complaints was from a neighbor in the 600-person town of Big Sandy who ran out of medication while waiting for a refill to come in the mail. (Mr. Tester’s Republican counterpart in Montana, Senator Steve Daines, also objected to the postmaster’s new policies but did not respond to an interview request.)

“It’s worse than it’s ever been,” Mr. Tester said. “It’s hurting rural America. It makes no sense whatsoever.”

Rural residents know that sparsely populated backcountry routes and tiny post offices are not moneymakers for an agency losing tens of billions of dollars because of congressionally mandated health care payments and declines in mail volume.

But in places already isolated because of spotty internet access, people said the post office was the only institution mandated to serve them at a flat cost, no matter the weather or how remote they were. Like a hospital, school or grocery store — all of which have closed across rural America — they said a post office anchored a town’s survival.

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