Postmaster General Louis DeJoy assured legislators Friday that election mail will be delivered on time in November, despite lacking a plan to do so amid an expected influx of mail-in ballots.
After DeJoy testified before the GOP-led Senate committee, House Democrats held a rare Saturday session to approve legislation that would repeal postal changes and invest $25 billion in the agency. The measure passed mostly on partisan lines, although 26 Republicans voted in favor of the proposal. Still, there are no plans for a Senate vote, and President Donald Trump has made clear his opposition.
Despite the US Postal Service’s status as an independent agency, the White House and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reportedly played a role in the process that led to DeJoy’s selection as postmaster general. A Trump donor and former logistics executive, he has faced increased scrutiny in recent weeks as new operational changes made under his leadership have slowed mail delivery times.
DeJoy says that he implemented the changes — including eliminating overtime for postal workers, removing mail sorting machines, and requiring postal workers to leave mail behind at facilities if it’s not processed in time — to cut costs for the agency that has long been struggling financially.
The result: Longer delays in delivery of letters and packages, which have raised concerns that the policies could impact the November presidential election. Mail-in voting rates are expected to skyrocket this fall in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which complicates in-person voting. Some have argued Trump is intentionally handicapping the agency to make mail-in voting harder, and the president himself acknowledged he plans to withhold funding to make it more difficult for the agency to process absentee ballots.
As public backlash mounted, DeJoy announced last week that the changes would be put on hold until after the November election “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”
But speaking before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Friday, DeJoy said dismantled sorting equipment capable of processing 21.4 million pieces of flat mail per hour won’t be restored and the policy requiring workers to leave mail behind at facilities won’t be reversed. DeJoy also claimed that the Postal Service didn’t have any planned changes for election mail, even as internal documents reported by CNN show the agency did plan to process ballots differently this year in a way that could contribute to slower delivery. That policy has been reversed.
DeJoy told the committee he’s still “extremely highly confident” that election mail will be delivered on time in the fall, but couldn’t provide details of a plan to ensure on-time delivery and said it wouldn’t be ready to show lawmakers by the end of the weekend, indicating it was still being drafted.
USPS has long had money problems. Lawmakers disagree on how to help.
The Postal Service has long been one of the most popular American institutions, but the largely self-funded service has long struggled to remain solvent. Mail volume has been slowing, and the agency has a requirement to fund its employees’ post-retirement health care costs 75 years into the future due to the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, a policy that doesn’t apply to any other federal agency or private company.
The pandemic nearly delivered a fatal blow to USPS when first-class mail began dropping and tens of thousands of workers were unable to come to work due to illness or other coronavirus-related concerns. The agency spent hundreds of millions of dollars on making post offices and sorting facilities safe, including investing in personal protective equipment and plexiglass dividers.
The agency was expected to run out of money by the end of September, but is now likely to be buoyed through the middle of 2021 due to a surge in coronavirus-related package shipments. Some Republican policymakers have long sought to privatize the agency to compel it to compete with companies like UPS and FedEx. Democrats often argue it should be viewed as a public service, tasked with delivering mail to rural areas that are less efficient to reach.
Now, in the face of outrage over changes that could contribute to mail delays and anxiety over mail-in voting in the fall, lawmakers in the Democrat-led House have passed a bill that would provide $25 billion in funding for the Postal Service.
In addition to the influx of funding, the Delivering for America Act, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), would prohibit USPS from making any changes to service and operations that were in place at the beginning of 2020, before DeJoy took over the agency. It would require no more changes be made until the coronavirus pandemic is over.
The Trump administration has said it “strongly opposes” the House’s Postal Service funding bill and said the president would likely veto it even if it did pass the Senate. The White House argues it would implement “burdensome” requirements that would make election mail delivery harder and that the funding is “an overreaction to sensationalized media reports.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said he supports including $10 billion in funding for the Postal Service in a coronavirus aid legislative package, “just to make sure the Post office is on good terms going into the November election.” The White House has said it may support additional funding for the agency as a part of a coronavirus aid package. But Democrats have so far rejected proposals to fold in the Postal Service funding. They are generally opposed to smaller-scale coronavirus aid packages, which may sap leverage for their key priorities, such as resuming sweeping unemployment benefits and shoring up state and local government budgets.
DeJoy will testify before Congress again on Monday, this time in front of the House Oversight Committee. As public scrutiny over the Postal Service continues to mount, DeJoy’s next appearance may be even more contentious than the last.
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