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Facing public scrutiny, postmaster general halts changes blamed for delays until after election

Postmaster general halts USPS changes until after election
Postmaster general suspends USPS changes until after 2020 election 03:54

Washington — The postmaster general announced Tuesday he will be halting the operational changes put in place to cut costs at the embattled U.S Postal Service until after the November election after he came growing under pressure to reverse the shifts due to mail delays.

Louis DeJoy, a Republican donor who assumed the role of postmaster general in June, said in a statement his initiatives would be suspended "to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail."

"The Postal Service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall," he said. "Even with the challenges of keeping our employees and customers safe and healthy as they operate amid a pandemic, we will deliver the nation's election mail on time and within our well-established service standards. The American public should know that this is our number one priority between now and election day."

DeJoy also announced he is expanding the Postal Service's leadership task force on election mail "to enhance our ongoing work and partnership with state and local election officials in jurisdictions throughout the country."

The postmaster general said retail hours at post offices will not change, mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will not be moved, no mail processing facilities will close and overtime will be approved as needed.

In the weeks after taking the helm of the Postal Service, DeJoy imposed a series of changes designed to save the agency money, including curbing overtime and prohibiting workers from making extra trips for late-arriving mail. But the operational shifts have led to a delay in mail delivery and backlogs.

Last week, the Postal Service confirmed it mailed letters to 46 states warning mail-in ballots may not be received in time to be counted, sparking criticism as states have expanded vote-by-mail because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Concerned that millions of Americans could be disenfranchised due to late-arriving ballots and that prescriptions and bills are not being delivered on time, lawmakers in both chambers of Congress summoned DeJoy and Robert Duncan, the chairman of the Postal Service Board of Governors, to Capitol Hill.

DeJoy is set to testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Friday, and he and Duncan agreed to appear before the House Oversight and Reform Committee for a hearing Monday.

The postmaster general's announcement that he will be putting his operational initiatives on hold come days before the House is scheduled to return to Washington to take up legislation that prohibits the Postal Service from making any changes to its operations or levels of service until the end of the pandemic.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement in response to DeJoy's statement that the House will move ahead with its vote set for Saturday and called his pause "a necessary but insufficient first step in ending the president's election sabotage campaign."

"This pause only halts a limited number of the postmaster's changes, does not reverse damage already done, and alone is not enough to ensure voters will not be disenfranchised by the president this fall," she said.

The November election is expected to bring a flood of mail-in ballots due to the efforts by states to ensure voters can safely cast their ballots without risking their health. But Mr. Trump levies frequent attacks on vote-by-mail, alleging it invites voter fraud despite scant evidence to back up his claims. 

The president's attempts to discredit mail-in voting led to claims from Democrats that he was sabotaging the Postal Service. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate urged DeJoy to reverse his changes to the mail agency, citing the delivery delays and concerns about the general election.

But Republicans also joined the chorus of calls for the shifts to be halted. In an August 16 letter, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost called on Mr. Trump to postpone the reforms until after the election, warning the changes just before the start of early voting on October 6 "would place the solvency of the Post Office above the legitimacy of the government itself."

Yost cited reports about the removal of sorting boxes and mail boxes and warned the initiatives would likely prompt lawsuits.

Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana also urged DeJoy earlier this month to reverse his changes, and he joined a bipartisan group of senators who introduced legislation that would provide the Postal Service with $25 billion.

The House in May passed its own legislative package in response to the coronavirus crisis that provided the agency with a $25 billion injection of federal dollars.

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