Amid growing concern as the financially distressed United States Postal Service cuts back on mail sorting machines and other assets as the election nears, the postmaster general issued a statement Tuesday pledging the USPS "is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall" and that any further changes will be postponed until after the election.
Within the last week, news reports from the Washington Post and others have shown that the USPS has shed hundreds of high-volume mail sorting machines, with some of the hardest-hit cities located in swing states.
In the Twin Cities, enough machines were removed to reduce sorting capacity by 200,000 to 300,000 pieces of mail per hour, according to the Washington Post.
In his statement, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said the recent changes were part of an effort to make the postal service more sustainable, but that further changes will now be delayed till after the election.
He said that the USPS is expanding a task force on election mail and is ready to "engage standby resources" on Oct. 1.
He asserted that retail hours would stay the same, mail processing equipment and mailboxes will stay put, and that overtime will continue to be granted to workers as needed.
"I believe significant reforms are essential to that objective, and work toward those reforms will commence after the election. In the meantime, 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.
"To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded."
The statement did not address equipment that has already been removed, POLITICO noted.
The site also reported that "two sources familiar with the decision" said that the suspension of changes was “absolutely not” due to an order from President Donald Trump."
“They felt the heat. And that's what we were trying to do, make it too hot for them to handle,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told Politico.
A group of state attorneys general announced Tuesday they were filing a lawsuit over the reductions at USPS. After the announcement, a spokesperson for Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said they were still moving forward with the lawsuit.
DeJoy is scheduled to testify in both chambers of Congress over the next week.
The postal service has been incurring heavy losses in recent years, though supporters point out it's been financially hamstrung by a law enacted by Congress – the last time the USPS turned a profit – that requires it to "pre-fund" the pension obligations of its employees, which is unique among federal agencies.
It was also reported Friday that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy sent a letter to 46 states, warning the majority of those states, including Minnesota, that voters should submit their ballots by Oct. 27.
"This really doesn’t fundamentally alter what we have been saying and will continue to say for the next 180 days," Secretary of State Steve Simon told BMTN last week regarding the letter.
Simon said his office will continue to encourage people to vote by mail to keep the polls safer from coronavirus spread. Part of that campaign will include encouraging voters to drop off their completed ballots at their local elections office rather than mailing it back.