This story was updated with comment from Virginia Kase at 4:11 p.m. It was updated again at 5:18 p.m. with comment from Mark Dimondstein. It was updated a third time with comment from Rep. Chris Smith at 7:28 p.m.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced a rollback of new widely-criticized U.S. Postal Service policies that have seen mail delayed, sometimes for more than a week, in most parts of the country.
Democrats worried the changes, which included overtime cuts that changed a longstanding USPS policy of delivering all mail on schedule, were enacted to hobble the Postal Service as more states moved to rely on mail-in voting to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“There are some longstanding operational initiatives — efforts that predate my arrival at the Postal Service — that have been raised as areas of concern as the nation prepares to hold an election in the midst of a devastating pandemic,” DeJoy said in a statement Tuesday. “To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded.”
The announcement came not long after attorneys general in at least 20 states signaled their intent to sue USPS over a belief that the Trump administration was crippling the agency for electoral gain.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Tuesday said New Jersey would be among those states, though it’s not yet clear whether the state is launching its own suit or joining one of at least three suits launched by coalitions of other states.
“I can confirm: New Jersey will be suing USPS,” Grewal said on Twitter. “Voting by mail is safe, secure, and reliable. We intend to keep it that way. As AG, I’ve made it my mission to hold accountable those who try to corrupt our political process.”
DeJoy, the first postmaster general without experience in USPS appointed to head the agency in more than two decades, was a major donor and fundraiser for President Donald Trump, though he has denied his connections to the president affected his management of the agency.
Under his leadership, the Postal Service in early July adopted new policies that barred mail carriers from taking overtime. Under the new rules, any mail that was not delivered by the end of a shift would be held until the following day.
In the weeks since, the policy has led to ever-growing delays as mail carriers unable to clear a given day’s mail saw their backlogs balloon.
Separately, DeJoy launched a policy that would require election officials to pay first-class shipping rates for all vote-by-mail ballots, a policy that would triple costs for some counties.
Some clerks and election officials send ballots as marketing mail, which carries a lower price and delivery priority, though some New Jersey counties — Essex County, for one — send out ballots using first-class mail.
Longstanding policy at USPS treated all mail-in ballots as first-class mail, regardless of the rates paid by election officials or voters
Those changes and others led Democrats to call for investigations into the agency through multiple channels. The USPS Office of the Inspector General has launched a probe into the changes enacted by DeJoy, and Rep. Bill Pascrell has called for Grewal to empanel a state grand jury probe of the same.
Tuesday’s announcement did little to tamp down those tensions. DeJoy will still come before the House Oversight Committee to account for the since-paused policies on Aug. 24, and good government groups are warning that the saga has already damaged voters’ confidence in the upcoming election.
“While we are pleased that the wide scale disruptive changes made by the Postmaster General will temporarily cease, questions remain around how to make the United States Postal Service whole again — including restoring the deficiencies which these decisions caused in the middle of a pandemic and just months before a national election,” said League of Women Voters CEO Virginia Kase. “The agency must present a clear plan for how it will replace the discarded equipment, reverse the damage done, and restore the American public’s confidence in our postal system.”
Simply reversing course was “too little and too late,” Kase said.
American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein also celebrated the about-face, crediting USPS employees who warned of the delays and the public outcry those warning caused.
“We welcome the postmaster’s reversal of these policies,” he said. “These rollbacks would not have happened without public outcry and civic action. The public would not have been aware of these regressive policies if postal workers around the country had not sounded the alarm.”
DeJoy now insists that the Postal Service will be able to handle the multiple millions of mail-in ballots voters will cast in the general election.
“The Postal Service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall,” DeJoy said. “Even with the challenges of keeping our employees and customers safe and healthy as they operate amid a pandemic, we will deliver the nation’s election mail on time and within our well-established service standards. The American public should know that this is our number one priority between now and election day.”
But in a late July letter planned before DeJoy took helm of the agency, USPS warned 46 states, including New Jersey, that it couldn’t guarantee all returned mail-in ballots would be delivered in time to be counted.
Dimondstein suggested those warnings still held.
“The struggle to save the public Postal Service is far from over. The USPS, which delivers to 160 million addresses every day and is normally supported by the sale of stamps and services, needs emergency financial help. And we must ensure that these rollbacks announced today are made permanent and that the people’s Post Office remains a public service. This is the United States Postal Service, not Postal Business. It is overwhelmingly supported by the people and belongs to the people. They have made it clear that they intend to keep it.”
Additional funding could help ease the added strain, but Trump had vowed to block such funding, claiming baselessly that mail-in voting would allow for widespread election fraud. He’s since waffled on the issue, though it’s not clear whether he’ll approve aid for USPS present in partisan stimulus bills.
At least one of New Jersey’s two Republican congressmen wants the agency to receive an injection of funds.
“I am grateful that the Postmaster General has reversed course on the proposed changes,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-Hamilton) said. “And while I am glad for the postponement, we still need and I continue to support increased funding to help stabilize the Postal Service and ensure it can properly process the surge of ballots expected this fall.”
At the very least, USPS will see surge in resources starting on Oct. 1.
“I am grateful for the commitment and dedication of all the men and women of the Postal Service, and the trust they earn from the American public every day, especially as we continue to contend with the impacts of COVID-19,” he said. “As we move forward, they will have the full support of our organization throughout the election.”