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August 20, 2020

New Postmaster General Louis DeJoy will get to explain the controversial changes he has made at the U.S. Postal Service before the Senate on Friday and the House on Saturday, but so far his promise Tuesday to suspend the changes is being met with skepticism. For one thing, his suspension is temporary, and it evidently does not involve replacing decommissioned mail sorting machines or blue postal drop boxes, or restoring overtime pay so the diminished postal workforce can deliver the mail in a timely fashion during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, for example, WOOD-TV 8 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, reported that three mail sorting machines had been dismantled in the central post office on Tuesday and Wednesday, though work taking apart the third machine was halted — but not reversed — after DeJoy's order came through.

"The machine, there's no electrical to it anymore, it's just sitting there," Amy Puhalski, president of American Postal Workers Union Local 281 in western Michigan, told The Holland Sentinel. "But they're not continuing on with pulling apart the actual piece of equipment." The dismantled machines will slow mail processing and delivery, she said. WOOD-TV also found several scrapped package sorting machines at another Grand Rapids facility.

Some companies that track USPS metrics or send bulk mail say the slowdowns in delivery haven't been that severe this summer, despite many anecdotes of late-arriving medicines, bills, and packages. But The Portland Press Herald in Maine highlighted one gruesome example of mail fail, reporting that in a shipment of live chicks delivered to Pauline Henderson's poultry farm last week, all 800 chicks were dead. "We've never had a problem like this before," Henderson said. "Usually they arrive every three weeks like clockwork. ... And out of 100 birds you may have one or two that die in shipping."

Henderson isn't alone. At least 4,800 chicks mailed to Maine farmers through the USPS had arrived dead in recent weeks, since DeJoy instituted his cost-cutting measures, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) said in a letter to the postmaster general and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Newly hatched chicks can live without food or water for up to two days, and the USPS has been shipping them to farmers since 1918, the Postal Service says. "It's one more of the consequences of this disorganization, this sort of chaos they've created at the post office and nobody thought through when they were thinking of slowing down the mail," Pingree said. Peter Weber

August 17, 2020

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Sunday night that she is calling the House back into session a few weeks early to handle the crisis at the U.S. Postal Service. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) will outline the timing to House Democrats on Monday, but Axios reports that lawmakers will travel to Washington, D.C., on Friday and convene on Saturday.

Pelosi said the starting point will be a vote on the Delivering for America Act, legislation introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) that "would prohibit the Postal Service from dialing back levels of service it had in place" on Jan. 1. She added that the House will continue to fight for action on a bill it passed in May to provide billions in emergency funding to the USPS and finance other COVID-19 responses; the Senate adjourned last week without a COVID-19 relief bill of its own.

Democratic leaders said earlier Sunday that they had asked new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Robert "Mike" Duncan to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Aug. 24 about the changes DeJoy has ordered at the USPS that have slowed mail delivery. DeJoy is a major donor to President Trump's campaigns and former Republican National Convention finance chairman; Duncan is the former head of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) Senate Leadership Fund super PAC.

"The Postal Service is a pillar of our democracy, enshrined in the Constitution and essential for providing critical services: delivering prescriptions, Social Security benefits, paychecks, tax returns, and absentee ballots to millions of Americans, including in our most remote communities," Pelosi wrote in her letter to colleagues. "Alarmingly, across the nation, we see the devastating effects of the president’s campaign to sabotage the election by manipulating the Postal Service to disenfranchise voters." Democratic lawmakers say they have been flooded with complaints about postal service delays, and Trump said last week he opposes new USPS funding because it would enable voting by mail. Peter Weber

August 14, 2020

Newly installed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy met with President Trump in the Oval Office last week, before a contentious meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) about his controversial new policies at the U.S. Postal Service, The Washington Post reports. A few days later, DeJoy removed several top USPS officials, including two that oversaw day-to-day operations, and postal employees are now warning about the unexplained removal of vote-sorting machines.

Trump spokesman Judd Deere told the Post the Oval Office meeting was "congratulatory," because DeJoy took over the post on June 15, though "he declined to offer any other details." The measures enacted by DeJoy, a billionaire donor to Trump and other Republicans with significant financial interests in USPS competitors and contractors, have slowed mail delivery — a temporary "unintended consequences" of his cost-cutting measures, he told postal workers in a letter Thursday. DeJoy is also "in frequent contact with top Republican Party officials," the Post reports.

The reliability of the USPS is now an overtly political issue after Trump directly tied funding for the independent agency to his opposition to mail-in voting during the 2020 election. Democrats, who have insisted at least $10 billion be given to the USPS as part of a COVID-19 deal, "need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots," Trump told Fox Business on Thursday morning. "If they don't get those two items, that means you can't have universal mail-in voting because they're not equipped to have it." Trump later suggested he was using USPS funding as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Pelosi and Schumer.

USPS officials have repeatedly said the post office can handle the expected surge in mail-in ballots, The New York Times notes.

Trump has claimed baselessly and frequently that widespread mail-in voting will lead to significant fraud, and the Republican National Committee and conservative groups are spending tens of millions of dollars to fight mail-in voting expansion, before and after the election, the Post reports. "The president is afraid of the American people," Pelosi argued. "He's been afraid for a while, he knows that on the legit, it'd be hard for him to win, so he wants to put obstacles of participation." Peter Weber

August 14, 2020

Newly installed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a large donor to President Trump and other Republicans, has made controversial changes at the U.S. Postal Service right before it is called on to handle a surge in mail-in ballots, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has some concerns about the resulting service delays.

"I write to request that you promptly address the delays in mail delivery that have occurred following recent operational changes at the United States Postal Service (USPS)," Collins said in a letter to DeJoy on Thursday, released soon after Trump laid out his opposition to funding for the USPS that Collins supports. "Following these operational changes," she wrote, "Mainers are experiencing delays in delivery of needed prescriptions, personal protective equipment, such as masks, and payments sent through the mail. While I support efforts to improve the USPS's financial condition, I am concerned that the reported changes will have the opposite effect, reducing service to the public and driving away customers."

Along with slashing overtime and removing mail-sorting machines, DeJoy removed two of the top USPS officials in charge of day-to-day operations and reassigned 23 other postal executives. He has portrayed them as cost-cutting measures. The USPS has lost money since 2006, when Congress — with support from Collins — passed a law making the Postal Service set aside billions of dollars for future benefit payments. The pandemic has made its financial situation worse.

House Democrats have approved $25 billion to help the USPS stay solvent during the pandemic, and Collins co-sponsored a similar measure in the Senate, "but few other Republicans seem to be on board and the bill has not progressed so far," the Bangor Daily News reports. Collins faces her toughest re-election fight in November; a Bangor Daily News poll released Tuesday showed her challenger, state Rep. Sara Gideon (D), ahead by 8 percentage points. Peter Weber

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