Congressional representatives throughout Southern California joined forces on Tuesday, Aug. 19, to denounce President Donald Trump’s handling of the U.S. Postal Service.
As many of them conducted telephone interviews and gave speeches, however, word came from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy that some of the much-criticized operational changes were being suspended until after the November election. He also vowed that Post Office and mail-processing facilities would continue operating and overtime would continue being approved.
DeJoy said he would “suspend” several of his initiatives — including removing the distinctive blue mail boxes that prompted an outcry — until after the election “to avoid even the appearance of impact on election mail.”
“We will deliver the nation’s election mail on time,” DeJoy said in a statement.
The abrupt reversal from DeJoy, who is set to testify Friday before the U.S. Senate, came as more than 20 states, from New York to California, announced plans to sue the federal government to stop the changes.
The furor over the Postal Service largely centered around increases in mail-in voting as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic. Trump has repeatedly decried expanded mail-in voting as a means of election fraud, though there is no evidence of that.
Democrats have called the move an attempt to suppress the vote, with Trump trailing Vice President Joe Biden in the polls.
But on Monday, the president, in a tweet, denied trying to scuttle the agency or the election.
“The U.S. Post Office has been failing for many decades,” he wrote. “We simply want to make the post office great again, while at the same time saving billions of dollars a year for American taxpayers. Dems don’t have a clue.”
The House of Representatives, meanwhile, is expected to vote Saturday on legislation that would prohibit changes at the Postal Service until the end of the coronavirus pandemic or Jan. 1, 2021, whichever comes later, said Rep. Alan Lowenthal, a Democrat whose congressional seat covers Long Beach and surrounding cities in Los Angeles and Orange counties. The package will also include $25 billion to shore up the Postal Service, which faces continued financial losses.
“We’ve dodged a bullet,” Lowenthal said during a Tuesday phone conference, referring to DeJoy’s announcement. “But we’ve (still) got to make sure we put this into the statute.”
The Postal Service is among the nation’s oldest and more popular institutions, but has been strained in recent years by declines in first-class and business mail – and has now been hit with new challenges during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mail delivery problems, meanwhile, have swept through the nation as DeJoy began implementing changes designed to make the cash-strapped Postal Service more efficient.
In San Pedro, for example, residents have been venting about the unreliable mail for more than a month, some of them about undelivered medications and other important mail.
“I didn’t get mail for almost two weeks,” Maria Wadsworth of San Pedro said last week. “I finally got mail last Friday and it was three pieces of junk mail. I talked to one of the mailmen, but these people have no control over this at all. I thanked him for doing his job.”
And in the past week, mail delivery has become a major political issue, with the presidential election as the battleground.
News conferences and demonstrations took place throughout Southern California on Tuesday, during what was dubbed a “National Day of Postal Action.”
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, held a press conference at the Pasadena Post Office with members of the American Postal Workers Union to call on the US Postal Service to be protected.
“This is not only a threat to our democracy, but also to people’s health,” she said in a written statement, as voting from home is necessary to help contain the spread of the coronavirus this year.”
Chu also added that the Postal Service is crucial for things beyond the election.
“People depend on the mail for checks and medicines,” she said. “And small businesses – which are relying on mail more than ever thanks to this pandemic – would be devastated by this arbitrary slowdown in services.”
Chu and several other elected officials – including Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Los Angeles; Rep. Mark Takano, D-Riverside County; and Rep. Norma Torres, D-Inland Empire – also said the Trump Administration’s announcement Tuesday, while a good thing, does not go far enough.
“Damage has already been done,” Takano said.
A Postal Service spokesperson declined to comment beyond DeJoy’s statement.
Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Redlands, stood outside a U.S. Postal Service processing center in Redlands Tuesday, backed by several postal workers, and pledged to help get mail and democracy delivered on-time.
“We rely on the Postal Service in all of our communities,”Aguilar said. “The Postal Service is the pillar of our democracy, enshrined in our constitution.”
The United States Constitution does, in fact, mention post offices – but is vague on the government’s responsibilities.
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress the power, “to establish Post Offices and post Roads.”
But Aguilar also accused the Trump Administration and its new postmaster general of “waging war” on the Postal Service, which has had local impacts.
“In the two months since he has been in the position,” Aguilar said, “the new postmaster has brought new operational changes that have delayed mail and led to interruptions for my constituents here in the Inland Empire, and that’s unacceptable.”
Those changes include eliminating overtime, pulling mail sorting machines out of service, and cutting and reshuffling experienced leadership.
But even though DeJoy has said those changes will stop, there have still been issues with the Postal Service in recent weeks, officials and residents – some who have taken to social media to complain – have said.
“I’ve never received so much email from my constituents about how mail has slowed down, how they’re not receiving mail or packages on time, and concerns about, ‘What does this mean for the election?’” Lowenthal said. “We’ve received over 5,600 emails and letters about this issue, that’s well over the largest number we’ve ever received and it’s still increasing.”
Those concerns have been heightened as some Democrats have advocated for a universal mail-in election for 2020, with forms being sent to everyone, as a way to prevent the coronavirus from spreading at polling sites. Trump, though, has contended that mail-in votes are more susceptible to fraud but has denied his intent was to slow-walk the mail for the election.
Rep. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, called Trump’s accusations of mail-in voter fraud ahead of November “baseless.”
Mail-in voting has also become increasingly popular – regardless of the pandemic.
In Orange County’s March primary, for example, more than three-quarters of voters cast ballots by mailing them via the Postal Service, or by dropping them off at either a vote center or unmanned drop boxes, according to Orange County Registrar of Voters data.
Before Tuesday, DeJoy faced mounting pressure by Democrats to halt any changes as millions of Americans prepared to vote by mail during the pandemic.
Few question that the agency will face eventual reform, however, as the business model has crumbled in a high-tech age, causing the Postal Service to lose money. The agency has said it has enough money to get through 2021.
But, Lowenthal said, that needs to be done as a collaborative and bipartisan effort in 2021 – and after the election is over. Others agreed.
“In spite of the postmaster general’s commitments that he will support USPS operations,” Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Los Angeles, wrote on Twitter after DeJoy’s announcement, “we must make sure he takes EVERY possible action to ensure USPS operates at full strength and delivers mail swiftly now and in the future. Our health, our finances and our democracy are at stake.”
Staff writers Jennifer Iyer, Robert Morales, Mike Sprague and Ian Wheeler, City News Service and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Source: Orange County Register