The Queens lawmakers were partway through their press conference when the news broke: The postmaster general was walking back his plans to decrease operations at the United States Post Service (USPS). Operational changes were suspended, until after the November elections at least.
But the group of federal, state, and local electeds standing outside the Jamaica Main Post Office on 164th Street weren’t persuaded. They stuck to their guns and continued to make the case that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was a pawn in President Trump’s plan to defund the USPS and derail mail-in voting to swing the election in his favor.
The postmaster general might have suspended the changes but there were still a lot of unanswered questions, they said.
“Suspending now, does that mean he’s going to put back those mailboxes?” said Meeks. “Does that mean he’s going to make sure they start paying people overtime? Does that make sure he’s going to take off the locks on the mailboxes that have locks? What does that mean? Because the damage has been substantially done and so to say that you’re going to suspend it now, is not enough.”
President Donald Trump set off a firestorm of controversy last week about the USPS when he told Fox Business Network that he planned to limit mail-in voting by financially starving the already struggling agency. The agency had acquired an outsized role in the November presidential elections due to the coronavirus pandemic and people’s fears of contracting the virus by voting in person.
Democrats immediately came to the USPS’s defense and the controversy took on the contours of a culture war where the facts mattered less than the “optics” of the fight. The USPS was a financially beleaguered institution long before Trump trolled the Democrats. And despite that, even if everyone who voted in 2016 voted at once on the same day it would only represent 30 percent of the agency’s deliveries on a normal day.
But that didn’t stop the Queens politicians from sounding the alarm.
Just minutes earlier, U.S. Representatives Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica, Laurelton, Rosedale, Cambria Heights, Saint Albans, Springfield Gardens, The Rockaways, JFK Airport), Tom Suozzi (D- Little Neck, Whitestone, Glen Oaks and Floral Park and parts of Long Island) and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-Astoria, College Point, Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Woodside, parts of the Bronx), Assemblymember David Weprin (D-Richmond Hill, Fresh Meadows) and City Councilmember Rory Lancman (D-Kew Gardens Hills, Pomonok, Electchester, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, Briarwood, Parkway Village, Jamaica Hills, Jamaica) had condemned DeJoy for making operational changes made to the USPS that they said endangered democracy in the country by sabotaging mail-in voting and suffocated a much needed service that many the country rely on day to day.
“Every single American has to be concerned when a fundamental institution that we all rely upon for everyday life is being subject to this kind of purposeful dismantling and delay,” said Suozzi.
The press conference was part of a nationwide push by House Democrats to save the USPS in the lead up to a vote next week called by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to decide whether or not to increase funding to the agency by $25 billion.
The changes, such as denying overtime to employees, removing mailboxes, and decommissioning sorting machines, which had already begun to be implemented, would burden an overworked postal service and further increase the increasingly slow delivery times. The postmaster general was reinforcing Trump’s assertions that the postal service was unreliable in his attempts to discredit mail-in voting in November and disenfranchise voters across the country who are too scared to vote in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Fundamentally that is what this is about,” said Lancman. “The president interfering with people’s right to choose their representative from your little old councilmember and assemblymember all the way up to President of the United States.”
The possibility of a November election marred by a dysfunctional postal services hits particularly close to home in New York where the June primary results were complicated by a historic number of absentee ballots. Many of the requested ballots arrived too late for voters to fill them out, or never arrived at all. Many of those that were submitted were either not postmarked by the post office as required by law or arrived too late to be counted.
“The mail was terrible,” said Weprin about the June elections. “Can you imagine with these proposed cuts?”
In his statement, the postmaster general tried to dissuade any connection between the operational changes and voter suppression.
“To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded,” he said.
Retail hours will not change at USPS locations, mail sorting machines and mailboxes will remain where they are, processing facilities will not and overtime will continue to be approved as needed until after the elections, he said.
The release did not address whether or not the mailboxes that were taken away from public streets and sorting machines that were decommissioned –– many of which were taken out of service before the recent controversy –– would be put back in use. It did, however, say that the operational changes were longstanding and predated DeJoy’s arrival at the agency.
The postal service is eager and ready to do their part in the upcoming elections, DeJoy said.
“The American people should know that this is our number one priority between now and election day. The 630,000 dedicated women and men of the Postal Service are committed, ready and proud to meet this sacred duty.”
Despite DeJoy’s announcement that he would hold on the changes, Ocasio-Cortez said that his words mean nothing until he’s in front of the House Oversight Committee during Monday’s scheduled hearing about the USPS.
“He has lost the trust of the American people, he has lost our trust,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “We need to get him under oath, on the committee letting us know what is happening and we have to undo the damage that he has already done.”