'Not acceptable': Lawmakers not satisfied as changes at U.S. Postal Service halted
Following days of mounting public pressure, U.S. Postmaster Louis DeJoy said Tuesday he would halt all operational changes he’s made to the postal service in recent months, including major cutbacks, until after the November election.
Mail delays caused by the pandemic have reportedly worsened across the country since President Donald Trump appointed DeJoy, a new postmaster general with no previous experience in the field.
DeJoy has made sweeping cutbacks, including dismantling mail sorting machines and cutting overtime for employees since taking over the service. Staffing and overtime pay for postal workers have also been reduced. The cutbacks impacted Houston residents, especially in the last two weeks, according to local lawmakers who have heard from hundreds of constituents.
In his announcement DeJoy said equipment will remain in place, no processing facilities will be shuttered and that overtime “has, and will continue to be, approved as needed.” The postmaster said he made the decision to defer any changes until after November in order to “avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”
Houston Democratic congressional delegates, three of whom held press conferences across the region Tuesday, said the postmaster general’s move did not satisfy their demands. Legislation is needed to ensure the postal service can continue to operate at full capacity beyond November, they said.
“What he’s proposing is not acceptable,” U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said. “We need the changes to be reversed in totality forever. And that’s what the legislation is about.”
Jackson Lee said a bill aimed at saving the postal service will be proposed Saturday. The legislation would include funding for a $25 billion emergency COVID-19 relief loan and require the post office to permanently cease and desist from making cutbacks. The loan amount was requested by the postal service’s board of governors two months ago.
Previous legislation that passed in the U.S. House of Representatives would have provided the loan to the postal servvice. Trump has said he would block the funding.
U.S. Sen. Cornyn, R-Texas, supported a $10 billion loan to the postal service in the CARES Act. The senator is “open to additional relief,” according to his office.
“There’s bipartisan support for the post office, but it does definitely need reform,” Cornyn said at an event in Amarillo Tuesday.
Protestors rallied at Cornyn’s Houston office Tuesday.
U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said DeJoy’s announcement raises more questions than it answers.
“The real question is, will those words really mean action?” she said during a press conference at the postal sorting facility on Aldine Bender Road. “Will they put all those blue boxes back where they were? Will they put back the machines that they’ve already pulled out? Will they continue to give the workers the overtime that they need to get the job done?”
The iconic blue mailboxes have been removed in Oregon, New York and other states.
Echoing the sentiments of Garcia and others, Shawn Boyd, a regional administrative assistant for the National Association of Letter Carriers, said he was encouraged by DeJoy’s announcement, but added, “I want to hear more.”
Specifically, he said, he wants to know if plans already being implemented are being rolled back or if the postmaster is ceasing to continue to make further cuts.
A matter of life and death
Jackson Lee said she will help oversee an investigation of DeJoy’s actions.
“We need to know whether there have been any civil rights violations or criminal acts taking place,” she said.
Delays in postal service have especially impacted seniors, veterans, people with disabilities and others who receive life-saving medications in the mail, Jackson Lee said.
Katy Jewett, a 40-year-old Houston resident with stage 4 breast cancer, is one of those people. Jewett and others attended the congresswoman’s press conference Tuesday at a post office on Almeda Road.
Jewett’s monthly shipment of a critical medicine that promises to help her live another 11 months wasn’t delivered in time, she said. The closest pharmacy that carried the new, fairly rare treatment was in Fort Worth. So she drove eight-hours round-trip to get it.
“I made the drive, but some men and women can’t,” she said. “They can’t afford to take the time off work or pay for a specialized delivery service. And they shouldn’t have to be expected to.”
U.S. Army veteran Sgt. Dudley Boudreaux said he is supposed to get his chemotherapy pills to treat stage 4 prostate cancer in the mail in seven to 10 days. But it has recently taken up to a month to get his medication, he said.
Because Boudreaux gets his prescriptions filled through the Veterans Affairs office, the process is much more complicated to get emergency treatment when his medication does not come in.
“You can’t just go to the VA without an appointment,” he said.
Impact on voting
The threat the post office situation posed for people’s right to vote is dire, U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, said Tuesday.
“The post office is part of the system that allows people to get their ballots timely cast,” he said. “We must do all we can to allow people to vote and not be in a position where they might contract this virus.”
Postal workers reported at the Aldine Bender postal sorting center that about 15 sorting machines were recently removed from the plant, said Jabir McKnight, an aide to Jackson Lee. The machine requires two people to operate, but because staffing has been reduced, there is currently one employee working the remaining machines at the processing plant, McKnight said.
In his annoucement, DeJoy said he will expand an election task force to “enhance our ongoing work and partnership with state and local election officials in jurisdictions throughout the country.”
The task force will help ensure that election officials and voters are “fully supported by the Postal Service,” the postmaster said.
Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins said his office is working with local postal officials to ensure every mail-in vote is delivered and counted in a timely manner this fall.
“Do not be discouraged,” he said. “We need you to cast your ballots and have your voices heard.”