Under fire from Democrats, the Postmaster General acknowledged to a Senate committee on Friday that U.S. mail has slowed this summer as a result of internal reforms intended to speed mail service, but Lewis DeJoy sought to assure Americans that the Postal Service can handle an expected increase in voting by mail because of the Coronavirus outbreak.
“There was a slowdown in the mail,” the Postmaster General said, as Senators in both parties rattled off examples of constituent complaints about mail delays.
‘I will note a huge spike in calls to my office,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).
“We’ve been getting more complaints about service getting worse,” said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who cited home state stories about delayed medical prescriptions, lost rent checks, and more.
“We have a number of veterans who have contacted us and said they weren’t able to get their medications, and there are just some heartbreaking stories,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH).
In his testimony, DeJoy confirmed news reports from around the country of a backlog in mail items, along with decisions by the Postal Service to remove mail sorting machines from a variety of postal facilities.
"We had maybe a four or five percent hit on our service level for delay - all sorts of mail - everything," DeJoy said. "We're drastically bringing that down."
But when pressed about putting mail sorting machines back on line - the Postmaster General said that was not his plan, as he said after the elections, he would press ahead with major changes, such as cutting back on subsidized mail service in Alaska.
"Take the Alaska Bypass plan discussion, that's an item on the table," DeJoy said, labeling the subsidized cargo shipment plan for rural areas in Alaska an 'unfunded mandate' which costs $500 million a year.
That suggestion by DeJoy was quickly turned into a campaign issue immediately by Democrat Al Gross, who is running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK).
On the issue of mail for the November elections, DeJoy expressed strong confidence that the Postal Service could handle any level of ballots in the system.
"We will scour every plant each night leading up to the Election Day," DeJoy said.
While Democrats have said the Postal Service needs extra money to deal with a surge in mail ballots, DeJoy said that was not true, telling Senators there is enough money on hand to get through November without extra funding.
"I don't need anything to deliver mail on Election night," DeJoy said, when asked if a bailout was needed for the 2020 elections. "But we do need legislative reform."
DeJoy did suggest - echoing letters sent to 46 states by top officials in recent weeks - that if voters are going to use the U.S. mail to return their 2020 ballots, then they should do so at a minimum of one week before Election Day.
While Republicans accused Democrats of playing politics by making claims that the Postal Service was trying to slow down mail and have a negative impact on the elections, one GOP Senator said it shouldn't be a surprise.
"The President has made repeated claims that mail-in voting will be fraudulent," said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), "and that he doesn't want to get more money to the Post Office, because without more money you can't have universal mail-in voting."
Romney’s home state of Utah conducts its elections entirely by mail, which he called a ‘reliable and very successful system.’