Cutting service and shuttering locations are both under consideration by the U.S. Postal Service as the agency faces a cash crunch ahead of an expected surge in mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a sitting U.S. senator and numerous postal worker union officials.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., sent a letter to recently-installed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy demanding an explanation about reports looming closures and service cuts from postal workers in his home state. The concerns were raised after DeJoy, a major Trump donor, pushed for drastic cost-cutting measures when he took over the agency last month, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press.
Manchin's letter detailed reports that "numerous post office locations in my state and across the nation . . . are scheduled for imminent closure or significant reduction in hours and service."
Some post offices in West Virginia have hung signs announcing their proposed closure at the end of August, he wrote.
A West Virginia postal workers union official corroborated the reports received by Manchin, noting that 26 offices in just one region of the state are being forced to reduce service to less than four hours a day (along with service cuts at 31 other locations).
"A lot of this has been dropped on us with little or no communication," Elizabeth Coonan, a steward for the American Postal Workers Union Local 3264 in Clarksburg, told Vice News. "The times that they're slating [the offices] to close is when they do a lot of business."
A New Jersey union official told the outlet that 40 post offices in the state are also facing reductions. Posts offices in Alaska, California, Ohio and Tennessee have also announced plans to reduce hours, according to Vice.
"This would likely be a violation of both federal law" and USPS rules, Manchin said in his letter, demanding a detailed list of changes directed by DeJoy since he assumed office last month.
"It's just asinine to think that you can shut something down or throttle it back in terms of the pandemic when basically the lifeline for voting and democracy is going to be in the hands of the Postal Service," Manchin told the AP on Wednesday.
Mark Dimondstein, who heads the American Postal Workers Union, which represents more than 200,000 workers and retirees, told the outlet that there was "definitely buzz" about looming closures but no details.
DeJoy said in a statement earlier this week that the USPS could not continue to operate under its existing model. The USPS reported a $4.5 billion loss in the first quarter but saw its revenue slightly increase in the second quarter amid the coronavirus crisis.
"The Postal Service is in a financially unsustainable position, stemming from substantial declines in mail volume and a broken business model," DeJoy said. "We are currently unable to balance our costs with available funding sources to fulfill both our universal service mission and other legal obligations. Because of this, the Postal Service has experienced over a decade of financial losses, with no end in sight, and we face an impending liquidity crisis."
DeJoy said in the statement that the situation made it "critical that the Postal Service take a fresh look at our operations and make necessary adjustments."
"The logical conclusion is that he's going to try to close some post offices," Dimondstein told the AP.
Manchin noted in his letter that Congress approved up to $10 billion to help bail out the USPS .
"Unfortunately, not only has little to none of that funding been utilized," he wrote. "You are now proposing the very cuts that we sought to avoid with that emergency line of credit."
The Treasury Department on Wednesday announced that it had settled on an agreement with the USPS on the terms of its loans, but the agency was able to continue to operate without additional debt.
"While the USPS is able to fund its operating expenses without additional borrowing at this time, we are pleased to have reached an agreement on the material terms and conditions of a loan, should the need arise," Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. "I look forward to continuing to work with Postmaster General DeJoy to fulfill the president's goal of establishing a sustainable business model under which USPS can continue to provide necessary mail service for all Americans, without shifting costs to taxpayers."
The Democratic-led House of Representatives approved another $25 billion to help the USPS as part of its $3 trillion HEROES Act package in May after the agency warned that its losses could increase by $22 billion over the next 18 months. But the Republican-controlled Senate's counter-proposal unveiled by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., this week includes no funding to help the USPS.
Trump, who has frequently criticized the USPS over its budget crunch, more recently has sought to raise doubts over its ability to handle mail-in voting, which he opposes based on debunked conspiracy theories alleging possible fraud. Mail ballots have a fraud rate of about 0.00006%.
The president on Thursday suggested delaying the election over his unfounded fears about fraud. However, he has no authority to move the date, and there appears to be no appetite in Congress to do so.
Advocates of voting by mail have raised concerns that DeJoy's plans for an "operational pivot" could result in slowing down mail delivery ahead of an election where record numbers are expected to vote by mail because of the pandemic.
"While these changes in a normal year would be drastic, in a presidential election year when many states are relying heavily on absentee mail-in ballots, increases in mail delivery timing would impair the ability of ballots to be received and counted in a timely manner — an unacceptable outcome for a free and fair election," Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said in a letter to DeJoy.
Watchdog groups warned earlier this month that DeJoy's appointment could "corrupt a key institution ahead of Election Day."
"Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has attacked democratic institutions and undermined independent agencies. Now, as millions of voters are relying on the Postal Service to support our elections during the coronavirus pandemic, Trump is politicizing another once-nonpartisan government agency. Having a political ally with ethical and competence questions like DeJoy lead the agency potentially puts November's election at risk," Donald K. Sherman, the deputy director of for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and Sylvia Albert, the director of voting and elections at Common Cause, wrote in a joint NBC News op-ed.
"Installing a loyalist like DeJoy is another way Trump could undermine the agency and suppress voting in 2020," they added. "These actions are yet another desperate and potentially dangerous attempt to undermine the general election as his approval numbers continue to slip."