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Keeping Up With The Changes At The United States Post Office


The outcry about the U.S. Postal Service has grown louder and louder this weekend, with Congress now ready to step in. People across the country have reported service slowdowns as the postmaster general appointed by President Trump, who's also a major Republican donor, has made cuts to the agency. And, of course, this is of particular concern during the pandemic, when access to mail has become even more important. And as people think about how they will cast their ballots in the fall, NPR's Miles Parks is following this for us.

Hi, Miles.


FADEL: So the news today was that the House Oversight Committee called on the postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, to testify a week from tomorrow. What are we hearing from lawmakers about the state of the Postal Service?

PARKS: So Democrats are very concerned, and that really spans the whole party. Progressives and moderates have come out very vocally. But even a number of Republicans on the Hill, especially in rural areas - they represent rural areas - that are more dependent on the Postal Service. There's worry that President Trump is trying to use the Postal Service to hamper mail-in voting, which he basically said in an interview and a press conference this week.

But many lawmakers are also pointing out how people depend on the Postal Service for things like prescription drugs and Social Security checks. So House Democrats are calling in the postmaster general, as you mentioned, for testimony on August 24. And we don't have a response yet from DeJoy's office about that request. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is also reportedly considering calling the full House back early, before their Labor Day, to address the issues.

FADEL: So what do we know specifically about what has happened to mail service in recent months?

PARKS: There's really two parts to this. There's the financial issue, which we've known about for a long time. This agency lost $9 billion last year, and DeJoy has said they could lose $11 billion this year, so he's taken steps to cut costs since he was appointed by President Trump - excuse me, by the Board of Governors in May.

And those cuts have led to the second issue, which is operational. The cuts have included cutting overtime for mail carriers, something that can cause mail that comes in late to be left behind until the next day. It's also controversial during a pandemic, when you have workers calling in sick or taking care of family members, and you need to cover those hours.

Another more recent controversy, though, is about the removal of these high-capacity mail-sorting machines and removal those familiar blue mailboxes on street corners. The Postal Service says those sorts of adjustments that are - that have been happening are routine. But because people are so concerned right now about what's going on, they're backtracking on those plans until after the election.

FADEL: Now, President Trump said last week he didn't want to give the USPS more money because of mail-in voting. He tried to walk that back. So what's the White House saying now?

PARKS: White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was on CNN this morning, and he was pressed about some of those concerns about the election. He said the president's opposed to every registered voter being mailed a ballot, which is actually only happening in nine states and which has not yielded any big problems in the past when states have done it.

It's also worth noting that the president's issues with mail voting keep shifting. You know, a few weeks ago, he was signaling that he wanted people to have an excuse. But he seems to now think no-excuse absentee voting is fine. Meadows did pledge, however, that Trump would not interfere with people's ability to vote.


MARK MEADOWS: I'll give you that guarantee right now. The president of the United States is not going to interfere with anybody casting their vote in a legitimate way, whether it's the post office or anything else.

FADEL: NPR's Miles Parks.


MEADOWS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.