WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump offered conflicting statements Thursday about whether he opposes supplementary funding for the U.S. Postal Service, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and recently been mired in controversy with its new leadership.
Trump originally acknowledged his positionwould starve the agency of funds that Democrats insist it needs to process and handle the anticipated influx of mail-in ballots for the November election.
“They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said on Fox Business Network, adding, if they don’t get the funds, “that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.”
Trump’s comments follow repeated unfounded claims that mail-in ballots will lead to widespread voter fraud. Because of this, critics have looked at the changes within the agency with some alarm.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaign likened Trump’s comments and actions as “sabotage.”
Later Thursday, Trump seemed to suggest the funding may happen if Democrats drop other demands in stalled coronavirus relief fund negotiations in Congress and agree to a deal.
Here’s what we know about what is happening with the U.S. Postal Service:
Problems at the post office
The USPS’s financial woes were not brought on by the pandemic, though that has exacerbated them.
The agency reported a loss of nearly $9 billion last year. Some of this comes from years-long decline in first-class mail, and other issues.
In 2006, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act was passed, requiring the Postal Service to put money aside for future retiree health benefits. The law had a 50-year schedule, and for the first 10 years, USPS was supposed to save $5 billion. However, since 2006, the USPS has seen rising net losses in revenue.
In 2012, the Postal Service started defaulting on the payments.
The USPS became eligible for a $10 billion loan from the Treasury Department as part of the the CARES Act, which Congress passed in March. But due to stipulations put in place by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, including the recruitment of new leadership, that money wasn’t made available to the USPS immediately.
The Treasury and USPS finally reached an agreement in principle on aid on July 29.
Who is Postmaster General Louis DeJoy?
In May, the Postal Service’s board of governors, who are appointed by the president, named Louis DeJoy as the postmaster general.
DeJoy is a North Carolina businessman and major Republican and Trump donor, who, according to several reports, had significant investments in companies that compete or do business with the USPS.
Prior to his appointment, DeJoy was a fundraiser for the Republican National Convention and has given about $360,000 to Trump Victory, a super PAC supporting Trump’s reelection, according to federal filings.
Trump on Wednesday called him, ” the new man — who is a great person, a great businessman — he just got there a little while ago.”
Changes at the agency since DeJoy
Since he was appointed, DeJoy has eliminated overtime for hundreds of thousands of post office employees and mandated that mail is kept until the next day if distribution centers are running behind.
In a memo to employees, DeJoy wrote that as a result, “if we cannot deliver all the mail due to call offs or shortage of people and you have no other help, the mail will not go out.”
This, and other changes, are said to have been implemented to cut costs.
Philip Rubio, a history professor at North Carolina A&T University and a former letter carrier, told USA TODAY in regards to these changes, “The USPS is not a trucking firm. The $200 million transportation cost savings that DeJoy claims will result from his policies will be minimal, and they will come at the expense of universal service, which is what the USPS does.”
DeJoy also dramatically restructured the organization, removing or reassigning nearly two dozen agency leaders, including displacing the two top executives who oversaw day-to-day operations.
He also banned employees from making extra trips to deliver mail, implemented a hiring freeze and requested “early retirement authority” for nonunion employees.
It was also reported this week that the USPS is removing some mail sorting machines from its facilities around the country without any official explanation.
These are the same machines that would be tasked with sorting mail-in ballots.
These changes have resulted in delivery delays in places, prompting fears that some ballots may not reach election offices in time if the issues aren’t corrected before the election in November.
Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, told NPR that “postal workers in general – are absolutely opposed to any policies that just slow down the mail in the name of whatever the name is – cost-cutting, in this case. It’s about service. It’s not the United States postal business. It’s the United States Postal Service.”
Despite calls for his resignation, DeJoy has pledged more sweeping changes.
Response to the changes
Trump has repeatedly railed against mail-in ballots heading toward November, calling them unsafe and untrustworthy, as COVID-19 forces many Americans to stay home and vote by mail.
He has also been highly critical of the post office, once calling it a “joke.”
At a fundraiser Wednesday evening, Biden accused the president of trying to defund the post office to stop mail-in voting, calling it “a bunch of malarkey!”
Also Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and more than 170 other Democrats signed a letter to DeJoy demanding the agency reverse the operational changes they argue would hinder mail-in voting.
“It is always essential that the Postal Service be able to deliver mail in a timely and effective manner. During the once-in-a-century health and economic crisis of COVID-19, the Postal Service’s smooth functioning is a matter of life-or-death, and is critical for protecting lives, livelihoods and the life of our American Democracy,” the lawmakers wrote.
House Oversight Committee chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., introduced legislation on Wednesday aimed at reversing the recent changes.
The Delivering for America Act would prohibit the Postal Service from changing its “operations or level of service” until the end of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, reverting to whatever structures were in place as of Jan. 1.
“Our Postal Service should not become an instrument of partisan politics, but instead must be protected as a neutral, independent entity that focuses on one thing and one thing only—delivering the mail,” Maloney said in a statement about the legislation.
Discussions for the next round of coronavirus relief funding have remained entangled in disagreements over election money, with the issue of mail-in voting causing lingering contention between the Trump administration and Democrats.
At the White House, Trump suggested Wednesday that a deal isn’t going to happen and pointed a finger at Democrats for demanding $3.5 billion for mail-in voting, which he argued would perpetuate voter fraud, and for pushing for an additional $25 million for the Postal Service.
On Thursday he said he would consider signing separate legislation that included funds for the USPS while also slamming the validity of mail-in ballots.
“If the (coronavirus) bill isn’t gonna get done, that’s gonna mean the Post Office isn’t gonna get funded … so, I don’t know how you could possibly use these ballots, these mail-in ballots,” Trump said.
Professor Rubio said the massiveness of mail-in voting that could occur this year, and the changes within the USPS may impact that.
“With up to 76% of eligible voters having the option to vote by mail this year, and at minimum 50% expected to vote by mail or vote early, this could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters if their ballots are not mailed out or returned in time,” he said.
Trump’s “previous attacks on the USPS and mail-in voting already suggested his deliberate sabotage of the democratic process and the USPS at the same time, but this was a stunning, candid admission that his intent was to starve the USPS of much-needed bailout funds and therefore compromise overall service as well as democracy,” Rubio said.
Contributing: Associated Press; Ella Lee, USA TODAY