(*This story was updated at 3 p.m. on 8/18/20 to reflect new actions by U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy)
WASHINGTON — Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said Tuesday that he will halt a series of sweeping policy changes to the U.S. Postal Service until after the general elections this fall.
DeJoy said he will not change overtime rules, retail hours at local post offices, or the location of mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes, nor will he close any existing mail processing facilities.
He also said the agency will use “standby” resources as of Oct. 1 to meet a possible surge in mail due to the elections.
“To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded,” he said in a statement. He said the agency is “ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall.”
The announcement came hours after a Senate oversight panel announced DeJoy will testify Friday in a hearing on policy changes to the agency that critics said could jeopardize the integrity of the fall elections, the day before the House plans a rare weekend vote on Postal Service legislation.
The Senate panel’s chairman, U.S. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., had been under intense pressure from Democrats to convene a hearing of his Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to examine reports of delays and other widespread problems at the Postal Service.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has come under fire in recent months for changes he has made to the agency’s overtime and delivery policies since he took the job in June. The agency has also reportedly planned to remove hundreds of mail-sorting machines at facilities across the country, which some fear could disenfranchise voters, according to CNN.
DeJoy will testify Friday about post office financing and operations during the pandemic and in preparation for the November elections. He has said changes are needed to operate within a constrained budget, but he has privately acknowledged that they have “unintended consequences,” according to CNBC.
On Saturday, the U.S. House will convene and vote on a measure providing $25 billion in postal service funding, according to Politico, and barring the agency from changing operations or service levels in place at the beginning of the year. And on Monday, DeJoy is slated to appear before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, led by Democrats. Robert Duncan, chair of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, also will testify.
“The American people want their mail, medicines, and mail-in ballots delivered in a timely way, and they certainly do not want drastic changes and delays in the midst of a global pandemic just months before the election,” U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who chairs the House oversight panel, said in a statement.
Maloney and other congressional leaders have also requested key documents and information about the matter be delivered by Friday.
DeJoy, of North Carolina, a top donor to President Donald Trump, has proven to be a “complicit crony,” U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., charged Sunday in a letter to her House colleagues.
The Postal Service generates almost all of its revenue through its operations but Congress has at times provided some additional appropriations. The Congressional Research Service reported earlier this year that the post office has continued to incur losses for at least a decade and its expenses in fiscal 2019 were $80 billion while its revenues were $71 billion. The pandemic has only exacerbated those problems.
Johnson’s announcement of his hearing came after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Monday called on the Wisconsin Republican to hold DeJoy “accountable for his role in undermining one of America’s most important and sacred public institutions.”
“I am pleased that immense pressure from Senate Democrats and the American people have forced Senate Republicans to confront Postmaster General DeJoy’s ongoing sabotage of the Postal Service that threatens the integrity of our elections and delays vital services,” Schumer said in a statement.
A spokesperson for Johnson did not respond to a request for comment.
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the committee’s ranking Democrat, has also pressed Johnson to take action.
“As the only Senate Committee with jurisdiction over the Postal Service, this committee has a responsibility to examine Mr. DeJoy’s recent directives and their impacts on all Americans, who rely on the Postal Service for prescriptions, essential goods, voting and other crucial purposes,” Peters wrote in a statement Sunday.
On Tuesday, Peters tweeted that he was “pleased to have secured an oversight hearing.” DeJoy, he said, “must answer urgent questions about @USPS postal delivery delays harming Michiganders & Americans.”
Peters launched an investigation into mail delays earlier this month and introduced a bill last week that would block DeJoy from making any operational changes that could undermine service during the pandemic.
In May, the U.S. House approved $25 billion for the Postal Service in a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package. The funds were intended to allow the post office to continue standard operations during the emergency, according to a letter Maloney and others sent last week to DeJoy. The package has stalled in the Senate, and negotiations with the administration over a compromise have so far failed.
The USPS functions to serve the American people but recent changes are making it harder for folks — including veterans and seniors — to receive their medications and social security checks. Today I dropped this letter in the mail to demand answers from this administration. pic.twitter.com/xC4zgNOgZz
— Congresswoman Madeleine Dean (@RepDean) August 18, 2020
In a tweet, U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3rd District, whose district includes most of Philadelphia, acknowledged the Postal Service’s historic ties to the city.
“We all know that [Philadelphia] is the birthplace of America’s democracy,” Evans wrote. “It’s where the Constitution was written & the Postal Service is mentioned in that Constitution. It is NOT optional and we must fight to protect it!”
1/ We all know that #Philly is the birthplace of America’s democracy. It’s where the Constitution was written & the Postal Service is mentioned in that Constitution. It is NOT optional & we must fight to protect it! pic.twitter.com/IagivTyDVo
— Dwight Evans (@RepDwightEvans) August 17, 2020
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said on Sunday that the post office would not dismantle sorting machines before the elections and that the Trump administration is open to a stand-alone funding bill for the agency, according to CNN. Trump said last week on Fox News that he opposes some of the funding because he doesn’t want it used for mail-in votes, repeating his claim that would be “fraudulent.”
“Now they need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. Now, in the meantime, they aren’t getting there. By the way, those are just two items. But 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,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., described the controversy surrounding the Postal Service as a “five-alarm fire.”
“We need to make sure that our government fulfills its obligation,” Casey, of Scranton, tweeted Monday. “What we don’t need is folks like Postmaster General, Mr. DeJoy, and anyone that works with him messing with the post office, messing with mail delivery, questioning whether or not mail ballots will get to people.
Speaking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said “the current financial model for the Postal Service is unsustainable.”
The Lehigh Valley lawmaker told the newspaper that postal service assistance will likely be part of a new aid bill, observing that “further efforts to preserve its long-term viability must be done in a fiscally responsible way that does not shift costs to taxpayers.”
On Sunday, Schumer called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the Senate back into session to address the issue. McConnell said Monday he isn’t concerned about mail-in voting this fall, according to CNN.
Capital-Star Editor John L. Micek contributed to this story.