Congressional Democrats blasted the newly installed United States Postmaster General — a major GOP donor whose appointment was controversial given his lack of prior USPS experience — for implementing operational changes that have slowed postal service in the midst of the pandemic.
“While it is true that the Postal Service has and continues to face financial challenges, enacting these policies as cost-cutting or efficiency measures as the COVID-19 public health emergency continues is counterproductive and unacceptable,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote in a Tuesday letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
Pelosi and Schumer’s letter was released the day after a meeting they had with DeJoy, which Schumer had previously described as “heated.”
Earlier Tuesday, several other House members, including some Republicans, sent their own letter to DeJoy calling for the cutbacks in service to be reversed — a demand that Schumer and Pelosi also made.
Since DeJoy took over the postal service in June, it has taken new measures to cut down on overtime, which in turn have have slowed mail service in certain parts of the country. Employees were told to leave mail behind if continuing to process it was going to put them behind on their delivery schedules, according to documents obtained by Washington Post and TPM.
USPS has not been particularly forthcoming as to the extent of the operational changes or where they are being implemented.
A key question is whether election mail will be exempted from these cutbacks, particularly as vote by mail surges during the pandemic. Lawmakers also noted that medicine and other vital deliveries during the outbreak are being delayed.
In a letter sent to House lawmakers last month, the USPS claimed that the documents outlining the overtime changes were not official policy, while acknowledging that USPS management was taking steps “to enhance operational efficiency and reduce costs.”
In their latest letter to DeJoy, the House lawmakers complained that the postal service still wasn’t being transparent about the changes and had kept Congress in the dark about a separate program to adjust operations in some places.
According to Pelosi and Schumer’s letter, during their meeting with DeJoy, he “confirmed that, contrary to certain prior denials and statements minimizing these changes, the Postal Service recently instituted operational changes shortly after you assumed the position of Postmaster General.”
“We believe these changes, made during the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic, now threaten the timely delivery of mail — including medicines for seniors, paychecks for workers, and absentee ballots for voters — that is essential to millions of Americans,” Pelosi and Schumer wrote.
Lawmakers are in the midst of negotiating the latest round of COVID-19 legislation, where USPS could prove to be a flashpoint. The previous coronavirus relief bill, known as the CARES Act, provided USPS a $10 billion loan. The loan was held up when the Treasury Department attached extra strings for USPS to access it, and only last week was a deal announced letting the loan go forward. The gambit has also attracted criticism from Democrats.
The U.S. Postal Service has been in a precarious financial situation for some time, in part due to a 2006 law requiring it front 75 years in funding for its pensions. The pandemic dealt another blow to the agency, as businesses pulled back on their use of marketing mail — though those impacts have been mitigated with the spike in package volume the outbreak has brought.