U.S. Postmaster Defends Mail Cutbacks As Driven by Financial Desperation

August 21, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
In this image from video, U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies during a virtual hearing before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on the U.S. Postal Service during COVID-19 and the upcoming elections, Friday, Aug. 21, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (US Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs via AP)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. postmaster tried to convince a sometimes skeptical Senate committee Friday that recent interruptions in mail service represented only an effort to cut costs amid a tight budget.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee called the hearing to deal with reports mail delivery problems resulted from a Trump administration policy opposing mail-in voting.

President Donald Trump has said voting by mail for the upcoming Nov. 3 election is likely to be subjected to far-reaching voter fraud.

Nevertheless, federal and local lawmakers plan to proceed with widespread voting by mail. An estimated 160 million ballots are expected to be cast by mail this year, according to federal election officials.

Many lawmakers say the coronavirus pandemic leaves them no better option to avoid spreading the disease at traditional polling places.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said Trump’s position against voting by mail is unrelated to his attempts to create cost efficiencies.

“We have a $10 billion shortfall,” DeJoy told the Senate committee.

The coronavirus has deepened the Postal Service’s financial woes by keeping many workers off the job, either because of illness or fear of contracting the disease, he said.

Nevertheless, he reassured the senators the election results would not be impeded by Postal Service delivery issues.

Compared with daily deliveries more than twice as high as the expected number of mail-in votes, “160 million ballots over the course of a week is a very small amount,” DeJoy said.

Recent issues have included decommissioning of sorting machines to prepare letters for delivery, according to a Government Accountability Office report in May. In addition, delivery trucks sometimes have left late on their delivery routes, particularly as coronavirus creates a manpower shortage. 

During the election, “We will have additional resources on standby,” DeJoy said.

He added, “I think the American people can feel comfortable that the Postal Service will deliver on this election.”

He cautioned that even if the election mail is delivered flawlessly, the Postal Service continues to face a financial crisis.

“Without assistance, we will run out of money,” he said.

In the less than three months since he took over as postmaster general, DeJoy has made plans to reconfigure delivery routes, curtail some services in sparsely populated areas and shut down equipment that is not absolutely necessary.

“The operating plan needs to cover its costs,” he said.

He said the idea of continuing previous levels of service without additional federal funding demonstrated “outrageous thinking” by members of Congress.

Some Democrats on the Senate committee were unconvinced financial worries were the only reason the Postal Service was confronting delivery trouble. They expressed lingering suspicions that Trump was fueling Postal Service complications to block voting by mail.

Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan told about people whose deliveries of prescription medicines were falling behind their doctors’ recommendations.

“These are real concerns I’m hearing,” Peters said. “They are not manufactured.”

Republicans, such as Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, showed greater support for DeJoy’s contention that he was dealing with serious economic issues.

He accused Democrats of engaging in “a very false narrative designed to extract a political advantage.”

He also said there was a possibility of additional financial backing for the Postal Service in an emergency coronavirus relief bill Congress is considering.

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