U.S. lawmakers from both parties sound alarm on Postal Service changes blamed for delays
Complaints about backlogs come a few months ahead of election, expected increase in mail-in vote
Lawmakers from both parties are calling on the U.S. Postal Service to immediately reverse operational changes that are causing delays in deliveries across the country just as big volume increases are expected for mail-in election voting.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday that changes imposed by the new Republican postmaster general "threaten the timely delivery of mail — including medicines for seniors, paycheques for workers and absentee ballots for voters — that is essential to millions of Americans."
In separate letters, two Montana Republicans, Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte, also urged the Postal Service to reverse the July directive, which eliminates overtime for hundreds of thousands of postal workers and mandates that mail be kept until the next day if distribution centres are running late.
And 84 House members — including four Republicans — signed yet another letter blasting the changes and urging an immediate reversal.
"This action, if not rescinded, will negatively impact mail delivery for Montanans and unacceptably increase the risk of late prescriptions, commercial products or bill delivery," Daines said Thursday in a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
"Delaying mail service is unacceptable," Gianforte wrote to DeJoy. "Do not continue down this road."
In their letter, the 84 House members said it is "vital that the Postal Service does not reduce mail delivery hours, which could harm rural communities, seniors, small businesses and millions of Americans who rely on the mail for critical letters and packages."
The letter was led by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York and the chair of the House's oversight committee, who has called on DeJoy to testify at a hearing on Sept. 17.
The flurry of letters came as Sen. Gary Peters, the top Democrat on a Senate panel that oversees the Postal Service launched an investigation into the operational changes.
'Our financial picture is dire'
The cost-cutting measures, intended to address the Postal Service's longtime financial problems, were imposed last month after DeJoy, a Republican fundraiser and former supply chain executive, took over the top job in June.
DeJoy, 63, of North Carolina, is a major donor to President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, as well as the husband of incoming U.S. ambassador to Canada, Aldona Wos.
DeJoy is the first postmaster general in nearly two decades who is not a career postal employee.
He offered a gloomy picture of the 630,00-employee agency Friday in his first public remarks since taking the top job in June.
"Our financial position is dire, stemming from substantial declines in mail volume, a broken business model and a management strategy that has not adequately addressed these issues," DeJoy told the postal board of governors at a meeting Friday.
"Without dramatic change, there is no end in sight," DeJoy said.
While package deliveries to homebound Americans were up more than 50 per cent, that was offset by continued declines in first-class and business mail, even as costs increased significantly to pay for personal protective equipment and replace workers who got sick or chose to stay home out of fear of the virus, DeJoy said.
In his first month on the job, DeJoy said he directed the agency to vigorously "focus on the ingrained inefficiencies in our operations," including by applying strict limits on overtime.
"By running our operations on time and on schedule, and by not incurring unnecessary overtime or other costs, we will enhance our ability to be sustainable and ... continue to provide high-quality, affordable service," DeJoy said.
While not acknowledging widespread complaints by members of Congress about delivery delays nationwide, DeJoy said the agency will "aggressively monitor and quickly address service issues."
In his remarks to the postal board of governors, DeJoy called election mail handling "a robust and proven process."
While there will "likely be an unprecedented increase in election mail volume due to the pandemic, the Postal Service has ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on time in accordance with our delivery standards, and we will do so," DeJoy said.
"However ... we cannot correct the errors of [state and local] election boards if they fail to deploy processes that take our normal processing and delivery standards into account."
More money needed, Democrats say
In the Senate, Peters is asking the public to provide their stories about delays or other problems with deliveries.
"For 245 years, the Postal Service has worked to provide reliable, consistent and on-time delivery that keeps Americans connected no matter where they live — especially in rural areas," Peters said.
"Unfortunately, in recent weeks, I've heard firsthand from constituents, postal workers and local officials in Michigan who have encountered problems with the timely and dependable service they count on to conduct business, get prescription medications and critical supplies and even exercise their right to vote."
Democrats have pushed for $10 billion US for the Postal Service in talks with Republicans on a huge COVID-19 response bill.
The figure is down from a $25-billion plan in a House-passed coronavirus measure. Key Republicans whose rural constituents are especially reliant on the post office support the idea.
Trump, a vocal critic of the Postal Service, contended Wednesday that "the Post Office doesn't have enough time" to handle a significant increase in mail-in ballots. "I mean you're talking about millions of votes. It's a catastrophe waiting to happen."
David Partenheimer, a spokesperson for the Postal Service, earlier in the week disputed reports that the Postal Service is slowing down election mail or any other mail.
While Democrats have been more vocal in their criticism, some Republican lawmakers have also expressed concern.
With her state's vast and difficult terrain, "the Postal Service is a primary source of knowledge, commerce and basic necessities," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska.
For Alaskans, she said additional help from Congress "is truly a necessity — not a convenience."
Republican Reps. Peter King of New York, David McKinley of West Virginia, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Daniel Webster of Florida, meanwhile, joined the House letter, which was signed by 80 Democrats.