Top Democrats rally for more USPS resources ahead of election

With Congress and the Trump administration still divided over the terms of the next coronavirus spending bill, top Democrats have doubled down on measures that would bolster the Postal Service ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Wednesday that he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had a “heated discussion” with postmaster general Louis DeJoy Wednesday over recent policy changes to cut overtime and transportation costs, which have led to some delays in mail delivery.

Operational changes and overtime cuts, Schumer said, leave USPS with “insufficient” resources to deliver an expected surge in mail-in ballots.

“We are demanding that the regulations they put in place, which cut employment and cut overtime, be rescinded. Particularly because of COVID and because of the elections, we need those to vote and we will advocate strongly for money so that they can hire all the people necessary – both overtime and new people – to make sure that every single ballot is counted, he said.

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The Postal Service provision isn’t the only tough sell in these negotiations. Schumer said there are still major differences between Democrats and the White House over the contents of the next pandemic spending bill.

Meanwhile, Schumer and Pelosi also held meetings with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“I feel optimistic that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but how long that tunnel is remains to be seen,” Pelosi said.

The meeting comes a day after the House Oversight and Reform Committee announced DeJoy agreed to testify at a Sept. 17 hearing focused on USPS operations.

Meanwhile, more than 130 members of the House have signed onto a letter demanding measures in the final pandemic spending bill that would roll back the operational changes DeJoy instituted, and give the agency $25 billion in one-time funding.

In addition to emergency funding, the lawmakers have urged congressional leaders to include language that would return USPS delivery standards back to before DeJoy’s tenure as postmaster general, which began in June.

While the USPS inspector general has found that overtime hours increased between fiscal years 2012 and 2018, lawmakers said the new requirements have “rendered postal workers unable to deliver mail in a timely manner.”

“As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise nationwide, the likelihood of voters utilizing mail-in ballots to protect themselves and their families has increased. The potential for votes to go uncounted, or for their delivery to be delayed as a result of the Postmaster General’s new requirements, threatens the integrity of the upcoming election,” the lawmakers wrote.

The Postal Service is self-funded and doesn’t ordinarily receive annual appropriations from Congress.

DeJoy’s meeting with Democratic leadership comes a week after USPS and Treasury Department officials reached an agreement on a $10 billion loan guaranteed under the CARES Act.

While USPS has seen an accelerated decline in mail volume during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s also reported about a 60% increase in package volume, leading senior agency officials to walk back more dire predictions of when the agency will run out of cash.

“While revenue losses have thankfully not been as severe as anticipated, the Treasury Department imposing its own hidden and potentially arbitrary requirements to release congressionally approved funds violated the intent of the CARES Act and subverts congressional authority,” lawmakers wrote.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who led efforts drafting the letter, said recent USPS operational changes raise concerns over whether the agency can “safely and promptly deliver ballots.”

“Safeguarding the USPS from these misguided attacks will protect millions of Americans’ medications, ballots, groceries and more. It’s imperative that we ensure any subsequent COVID-19 relief legislation includes funding for the USPS to survive,” DeFazio said.