Postal Service postponing changes until after election

More mail-in ballots expected to be cast than ever before because of pandemic

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., joined by other Democratic members of Congress, speaks during a news conference on postal service outside the U.S. Postal Service Headquarters on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., joined by other Democratic members of Congress, speaks during a news conference on postal service outside the U.S. Postal Service Headquarters on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted August 18, 2020 at 1:58pm, Updated at 4:43pm

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, under intense scrutiny over recent changes to service and operations at the U.S. Postal Service, announced Tuesday that he would be suspending changes until after the November election.

More mail-in votes are expected to be cast than ever before because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Postal Service had warned multiple states that election mail could be slowed by the service changes implemented in recent weeks.

“To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded,” DeJoy said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

He promised that retail hours at post offices and mail processing facilities will not change and that processing equipment and the iconic blue collection boxes on streets across the country will remain in place for the time being.

“The Postal Service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall,” DeJoy said.

Starting Oct. 1, DeJoy said, the service will engage “standby resources in all areas of our operation” to satisfy additional demand of election mail.

In recent weeks, post offices have been ordered to keep mail until the next day if postal distribution centers are running late, and overtime was eliminated for hundreds of thousands of postal workers.

Both Democrats and Republicans are speaking out about service cutbacks that are affecting constituents, especially rural ones or those depending on prescriptions and other essentials to reach them by mail. But Republicans have called concerns about election mail contrived.

“This is a manufactured crisis driven by [Senate Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer and [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi, and I am confident we will have an election in which the American people participate actively and an election in which the federal government at least is active in ensuring the integrity of the election,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday. 

DeJoy was brought into the beleaguered agency to make changes, and he said he remains committed to cost cutting and organizational moves. “I believe significant reforms are essential to that objective, and work toward those reforms will commence after the election,” he said.

DeJoy will testify Friday at a hearing on the Postal Service before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Monday at the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

DeJoy’s announcement hasn’t shifted the House’s plan for a weekend vote on a bill that would include $25 billion in new funding for the Postal Service, along with reversing service and operational changes implemented since Jan. 1.

Pelosi said at a Tuesday afternoon POLITICO event that the revised bill text will be released later in the day.

[House to take up $25B for Postal Service, other fixes amid election uproar]

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said at a press conference outside of Postal Service headquarters in Washington on Tuesday that legislative action is still needed to protect the agency and the integrity of this November's elections.

The revised House bill “will also include provisions that will say that all election mail, either from election board to voter or voter to election board, shall be considered first class mail,” Hoyer said. He said the costs associated with that change will be covered by the $25 billion cash infusion also included in the bill.

Some states classify election mail, including absentee ballot applications and ballots themselves as bulk, or marketing mail, a cheaper and slower alternative to first class mail.

First class mail takes between two and five days to be received, while marketing mail takes between three and 10 days to be received, according to the Postal Service. Marketing mail carries about one-third of the cost than the faster priority classification.

But for a long time, postal workers have informally treated election mail as first class items and afforded them the speed their 20-cent bulk price point ordinarily would not allow. But the Postal Service has warned some states that without the official first class markings, applications and ballots may not be expedited this year.

The House Democrats’ bill would codify this informal prioritization of election mail, according to Hoyer.