The head of the U.S. Postal Service said he would pause operational changes at the agency until after the November election after lawmakers expressed fear the changes would hinder the collection of mail-in ballots.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said in a statement he had been making changes at the agency to ensure its long-term sustainability, but “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded.”
“The Postal Service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall,” he said, adding that “standby resources” would be engaged on Oct. 1 to handle the increased volume of election mail. He said a task force on election mail would also be expanded.
DeJoy’s reversal on the changes comes amid increased scrutiny from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle over changes and service cuts at the agency. He is set to testify before the Senate on Friday and the House on Monday, where he will likely face pointed questions from lawmakers.
Democrats slammed the cuts to service they say slowed mail delivery and would have possibly hindered the agency’s ability to handle a surge of mail-in ballots in the November election.
Congressional Democrats sent DeJoy a 10-page letter Friday detailing the changes at the Postal Service they feared could delay the mail. Democrats also requested documents and information explaining the changes.
Among the shifts in service that worried them was a move to stop treating all election mail as first-class – which could mean a regular delay of up to eight days from prior elections – cutbacks in overtime and a ban on “late” or “extra” delivery trips.
An internal Postal Service document cited by the Democrats warned, “One aspect of these changes that may be difficult for employees is that – temporarily – we may see mail left behind or mail on the workroom floor.”
The Postal Service warned election officials around the country last Friday that not all ballots may be delivered in time to be counted even if they are requested before state deadlines and mailed back promptly.
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many states to allow more people to vote by mail to provide an alternative to in-person voting and reduce crowds on Election Day.
President Donald Trump has defended his administration’s management of the agency and has said he opposes additional funding for the Postal Service in spite of his acknowledgment that service delays threatened the November election. Instead, the president has argued the Postal Service has longstanding financial problems and needs to be reformed.
Democrats asked for $25 billion in recent coronavirus stimulus talks to help the Postal Service handle the uptick in mail-in ballots. But discussions over aid to help Americans struggling as a result of the virus imploded with no deal. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, however, indicated Republicans are open to passing a bill providing the $25 billion to the Postal Service.
“Let’s go ahead and get a stimulus check out to Americans. Let’s make sure that small businesses are protected with an extended PPP program and put the postal funding in there,” Meadows said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We will pass it tomorrow. The president will sign it. And this will all go away,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the Democratic-controlled House back early from its recess to vote on legislation Saturday preventing any further changes at the Postal Service.
Ronald Stroman, a deputy postmaster general under DeJoy’s predecessor, applauded the move to pause postal service changes but told reporters it “raises more questions than it provides answers.”
Stroman objected to DeJoy characterizing the changes as “longstanding operational initiatives” that predated his arrival. Stroman said that while the agency under him explored the initiatives to save money amid the decline of first-class mail, he said they did not implement them for several reasons.
“One is because we were in a pandemic,” Stroman said. “And the last thing you want to do in a pandemic is to reduce your flexibility in order to respond appropriately to deliver mail and packages for the American people.
“The other reason they weren’t implemented is you don’t want to lose your flexibility ahead of a national election where you will have an exponential increase in the amount of absentee ballots.”
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said the suspension of changes was not satisfactory and called on the postmaster general to reverse the changes.
He needs to reverse the changes he did, not just suspend the changes he was planning for USPS.
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) August 18, 2020
Speaking alongside congressional Democrats at a news conference outside the Postal Service headquarters in Washington, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters the legislation before the House would include provisions restoring the service and granting $25 billion in funding for the Postal Service.
Hoyer told reporters the legislation the House would consider on Saturday would make sure DeJoy could not make further changes.
“He should not have done what he’s done to date,” Hoyer said. “And he must reverse any adverse consequences of the actions that have been taken to date.”
Hoyer said the postmaster general’s announcement could be linked to the lawsuits filed against the Trump administration.
The actions just announced by the Postal Service, he said, were not taken “because they thought they were going to win that suit.”
Pelosi said in a statement released later Tuesday DeJoy’s announcement was a “necessary but insufficient first step.”
“This pause only halts a limited number of the Postmaster’s changes, does not reverse damage already done, and alone is not enough to ensure voters will not be disenfranchised by the President this fall,” she said.
A group of at least 20 Democratic attorneys general said Tuesday they would sue the Trump administration over the changes. Despite the announcement, the attorneys general said they would press forward with the lawsuits. Pennsylvania Attorney General Joshua Shapiro told reporters on a Tuesday conference call, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
And on Monday, Mondaire Jones, the Democratic nominee for U.S. House in New York’s 17th Congressional District, filed a lawsuit Monday alongside 15 other plaintiffs seeking a federal court to force adequate funding for the Postal Service.
“The actions of the President and Postmaster General to undermine the USPS are a deliberate assault on our democracy,” Jones said.
Contributing; William Cummings, Joey Garrison
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