By JENNIFER MANDATO
Capital News Service Washington Bureau
Almost two months into the new year, the U.S. Postal Service is still juggling massive delays, budget issues and operational challenges, compounded by the many obstacles of 2020.
Under fire from congressional critics and the general public, Postmaster General and CEO Louis DeJoy was defensive at a Feb. 9 meeting of the Postal Service’s Board of Governors. And some lawmakers want him gone.
“Unlike many who care to offer suggestions about the Postal Service, I offer that the future of the Postal Service must not be about assigning blame,” DeJoy told the board. “It must be about finding solutions and implementing them –and that is what our Board, our management team and I plan to do.”
During the holiday season, notably the peak season for post offices, the USPS processed and delivered a record number of packages – more than 1.1 billion – despite the challenge of operating in a global pandemic.
When FedEx and UPS increased shipping restrictions because of the pandemic, the Postal Service says it never turned away a package.
“As Americans are urged to stay home, the importance of the mail will only grow as people, including those in rural areas and senior citizens, will need access to vital communications, essential packages and other necessities,” Postal Service spokeswoman Martha Johnson said in a statement.
But in many communities across the nation, postal deliveries have been – and remain – abysmal. First Class letters have taken weeks to cross a single state. Packages have taken months to travel distances as short as a three-hour car ride.
Seemingly everyone has been impacted on some level by the Postal Service’s struggles.
Yadira Keen Santos of Annapolis said in a direct message on Twitter that she experienced mail delays impacting her mortgage payments. Santos did not receive her December mortgage statement until the end of January.
“I still have not gotten Jan. and Feb. will probably get to me by April at the speed this is going,” she said. “Of course it goes the other way too. They did not receive my Dec. payment that was sent 12/9 until 1/27.”
During the week of Dec. 26, only 64 percent of First Class mail was delivered on time, while the rate was just 45 percent for periodicals, according to a Feb. 17 letter to DeJoy from 34 Democratic senators.
“Our constituents have experienced missed paychecks and court notices, delayed critical prescriptions, an inability to reach small business customers and suppliers, lost rent payments and delayed credit card payments resulting in late fees, breakdowns in service to their communities, late personal mail such as holiday packages and more,” the senators wrote.
“It is your duty, first and foremost, to protect service and ensure timely mail delivery for every person in this nation,” the letter said. “We demand that you not make additional changes that will harm service for the American people.”
One of the senators on the letter, Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen, thinks DeJoy, a donor to former President Donald Trump, is “still wreaking havoc” and needs to be removed.
In a campaign fundraising email Friday, Van Hollen charged that “DeJoy is now planning to slow down delivery times even further while raising postage rates.”
Other congressional Democrats also have called on President Joe Biden to fill vacancies on the board of governors to ultimately oust DeJoy.
While the 11-member board appoints the postmaster general, the president has the authority to appoint nine of the board’s members. Currently there are three vacancies on the board, along with the deputy postmaster position.
Eighty House Democrats, including Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes of Towson, wrote Biden a week ago urging him to give those vacancies his immediate attention.
“We do not doubt that the Postal Service requires some thoughtful reforms in order to continue to provide excellent service to the American people in the years to come; however, there is a plethora of evidence that Postmaster General DeJoy is not equipped to meet the rigors of these challenges,” the lawmakers told the president.
DeJoy generated a furor last summer when he announced a slowdown in mail deliveries, cancelled overtime and dismantled automated mail sorting machines. Critics feared the moves would affect the vast volume of mail-in ballots in the November presidential election. DeJoy suspended further changes in October.
The USPS has been included in various COVID-19 legislation from Congress, including December’s relief bill that converted $10 billion in an additional borrowing authority loan into direct emergency relief. Previously, the Postal Service would have been required to repay this loan.
The American Postal Workers Union has been grateful.
“Together with the efforts of our national, state and local leaders and activists,” said union President Mark Dimondstein, “our retirees and the APWU auxiliary, as well as many friends in both sides of the aisle in Congress, there was never a moment that Congress could ignore the APWU’s priorities in the relief debate.”
As Congress negotiates the contents of the next COVID relief bill, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, hopes will be passed by the end of the month, the USPS said retiree health insurance is of utmost importance to its 664,000 workers.
“Medicare integration continues to be the top priority proposal we are advancing to improve coverage and cost and to align our retiree health funding practices with other government entities and the private sector,” Johnson said.
The change would provide much-needed financial stability for the USPS, according to officials.
At the Board of Governors meeting, DeJoy apologized to all Americans who “felt the impact of our delays.”
But he promised three critical components to his 10-year plan: keeping six-days-a-week delivery, providing employees with the tools and training to ensure long-term careers, and investing in vehicles, technology and equipment.