Protecting the Integrity and Reliability of the U.S. Postal Service
As I've traveled across Minnesota, I've seen the important role that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) plays in the lives of people across our state. From small towns and rural communities to our largest cities, millions of Minnesotans depend upon the USPS to deliver the letters and packages that fuel their lives and our state's economy. And in 2020, the mail is how hundreds of thousands of our state's residents plan to vote.
In the past several weeks, I've raised deep concerns about the recent disruptions in mail service because these delays impact millions of businesses and households. They hit veterans, older citizens, rural residents, and U.S. military service members especially hard because they depend on the mail for important things like life-saving medications, paychecks, Social Security checks, census forms, and ballots. In fact, 80 percent of Veterans Administration outpatient prescription medicines are delivered via the USPS.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still devastating our nation's economy and public health system, and a fast-approaching election that will include millions of mail-in ballots, I've been demanding answers from Postal Service officials about the reasons for the recent disruptions and the impact of those disruptions on timely, reliable mail delivery.
-U.S. Senator Tina Smith
Sudden Changes Slowing Mail Delivery
Sudden operational and leadership changes put in place this summer by newly-installed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy-including removing mail-sorting machines and denying overtime to postal workers when mail volume is heavy-have slowed delivery for millions of people in Minnesota and across the country.
This summer, media reports documented a week-long stoppage in mail service for residents of a public housing complex in Minneapolis. I've also heard from many constituents who contacted my office about mail delays all over the state. I received a letter from one Minnesotan who has been paying bills through the mail for years, and now, with mail delays, must pay late fees.
Another Minnesotan, at high-risk for COVID-19, has been ordering much-needed prescriptions by mail instead of going to the pharmacy in person. This summer, he told me he was down to his last five days of medication and his refills had been somewhere "in transit" for a week. And I've also heard from a veteran who has had two heart attacks and takes ten pills each day for coronary problems. He receives these vital medications by mail from the VA and is worried they won't continue to arrive on time.
While these delays are unacceptable, it is clear that they are not the fault of hard-working postal employees. For letter carriers in Minnesota and around the country, delivering the mail on time is in their DNA, and it's what they've been doing successfully for years. Recent mail delays are a result of the chaotic changes made by top USPS officials in Washington, and we need answers about why these changes were made so suddenly, and at a time when Americans are relying on the USPS more than ever.
Responding to the Disruptions at USPS, Demanding Answers
In August, to get a better understanding of the recent operational changes, I toured a large mail-processing center in Eagan and discussed with local USPS officials how the facility has been impacted. At the time, they had already lost two mail-sorting machines that could each sort 500,000 pieces of mail per day. They were scheduled to lose up to eight more by the end of August. So, in just this one Minnesota facility, the Postmaster General's decision to remove these machines is slowing down the delivery of millions of pieces of mail.
In response to the concerns I've heard from Minnesotans across the state, I joined Senator Elizabeth Warren in asking the USPS Inspector General (IG) to investigate the impact that changes made by the Postmaster General have had on timely mail delivery. We also asked the IG to investigate any potential conflicts of interest that DeJoy might have, since he is heavily invested in delivery services that directly compete with USPS. I'm pleased that only a few days after we pushed for the inquiry, the Inspector General granted our request and is now doing a full investigation. I look forward to the results of the investigation, since the Postmaster General has failed to respond to my direct inquiries.
The same day I was at the Eagan mail facility, Postmaster General DeJoy announced that he would suspend the changes he had previously ordered until after the November election. His announcement was due, in large part, to the pressure we were applying to get to the bottom of the mail disruptions. Unfortunately, he refused to commit to rolling back the changes and restoring Minnesota's mail-processing capacity.
I'm now pressing the USPS Board of Governors, which oversees Postmaster General DeJoy and all postal operations, to reverse the changes he put in place.
U.S. Service Members Also Hit Hard
I'm also part of a push to ensure that American service members - especially those serving overseas - aren't hurt by the changes at USPS. I joined Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other Senate colleagues in writing to Postmaster General DeJoy and reminding him that USPS is the only service that can deliver to the Army Post Office (APO) and Fleet Post Office (FPO) addresses used by our military overseas.
These deployed service members and their families are uniquely impacted by changes in service, because, often, the mail is the only reliable connection they have with loved ones during their military service. Service members also rely on the USPS for the delivery of medicines, ballots, bills, and countless other pieces of vital mail.
Perhaps most important, service members depend on the mail to vote. Absentee ballots are the only way that most deployed service members can cast their ballots. Making absentee voting more difficult disenfranchises the very Americans who defend our nation. That is unacceptable.
Working to Ensure Reliable Mail Service for Minnesota
For more than six months, our nation has been rocked by an unprecedented pandemic that has created a public health and economic crisis. During this time, we need a postal service we can rely upon to deliver products for businesses, get prescription drugs to people who need them, and this year, to make sure every citizen who votes by mail has their ballot counted. During this pandemic and beyond, I will continue to push to ensure the USPS continues its long history of reliably delivering mail to every community in Minnesota and across the country.