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Postal Chief Called by House Panel     08/04 06:17

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House Oversight Committee has invited the new 
postmaster general to appear at a September hearing to examine operational 
changes at the U.S. Postal Service that are causing delays in mail deliveries 
across the country.

   The plan imposed by Louis DeJoy, a Republican fundraiser who took over the 
top job at the Postal Service in June, eliminates overtime for hundreds of 
thousands of postal workers and orders that mail be kept until the next day if 
postal distribution centers are running late.

   Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who chairs the Oversight panel, 
said the Sept. 17 hearing will focus on "the need for on-time mail delivery 
during the ongoing pandemic and upcoming election," which is expected to 
include a major expansion of mail-in ballots.

   President Donald Trump has warned that allowing more people to vote by mail 
will result in a "CORRUPT ELECTION" that will "LEAD TO THE END OF OUR GREAT 
REPUBLICAN PARTY," even though there's no evidence that will happen. Trump, 
Vice President Mike Pence and other top administration officials frequently 
vote absentee themselves.

   Last week, Trump even floated on Twitter the prospect of delaying the Nov. 3 
election --- an idea lawmakers from both parties quickly shot down.

   Trump said Monday that the cash-strapped Postal Service is ill-equipped to 
add the expected influx of mail-in ballots to its responsibility to deliver 
mail and packages from the boom in internet shopping.

   "I don't think the post office is prepared for a thing like this," Trump 
said at the White House.

   Trump also has called the Postal Service "a joke" and said package shipping 
rates should be at least four times higher for heavy users like Amazon. But 
shipping and packages are actually a top revenue generator for the Postal 
Service, and critics say Trump is merely looking to punish Amazon founder and 
CEO Jeff Bezos in retaliation for unflattering coverage in The Washington Post, 
which Bezos owns.

   The Oversight committee intended to have the hearing with DeJoy this week, 
Maloney said, but was told DeJoy could not attend because of a meeting of the 
Postal Service's Board of Governors. DeJoy has confirmed his availability for 
the September session, she said.

   The hearing comes as the Postal Service is reeling from mail delays and 
financial problems, even as record numbers of mail ballots are expected in the 
presidential election because of the coronavirus pandemic.

   Postal Service officials, bracing for steep losses from the nationwide 
shutdown caused by the virus, have warned they will run out of money by the end 
of September without help from Congress. The service reported a $4.5 billion 
loss for the quarter ending in March, before the full effects of the shutdown 
sank in, and expects losses totaling more than $22 billion over the next 18 
months.

   "The Postal Service is in a financially unsustainable position, stemming 
from substantial declines in mail volume and a broken business model,'' DeJoy 
said in a statement last week. "We are currently unable to balance our costs 
with available funding sources to fulfill both our universal service mission 
and other legal obligations. Because of this, the Postal Service has 
experienced over a decade of financial losses, with no end in sight, and we 
face an impending liquidity crisis.''

   Bills approved by the Democratic-controlled House would set aside $25 
billion to keep the mail flowing, but they remain stalled in the 
Republican-controlled Senate. Congress has approved a $10 billion line of 
credit for the Postal Service, but it remains unused amid restrictions imposed 
by the Trump administration.

   The Postal Service and Treasury Department announced an agreement in 
principle on loan terms last week, with a formal agreement expected in the next 
few weeks. Even with the loan, the Postal Service "remains on an unsustainable 
path and we will continue to focus on improving operational efficiency,'' DeJoy 
said.

   Besides cutting overtime, the new plan halts late trips that are sometimes 
needed to ensure on-time delivery. If postal distribution centers are running 
late, "they will keep the mail for the next day," Postal Service leaders say in 
a document obtained by The Associated Press. "One aspect of these changes that 
may be difficult for employees is that --- temporarily --- we may see mail left 
behind or mail on the workroom floor or docks," another document says.

   Democratic lawmakers have demanded answers from DeJoy following complaints 
from constituents about mail service delays and other problems.

   "It is essential that the Postal Service not slow down mail or in any way 
compromise service for veterans, small businesses, rural communities, seniors 
and millions of Americans who rely on the mail -- including significant numbers 
who will be relying on the Postal Service to exercise their right to vote," a 
group of Democratic senators wrote in a letter to DeJoy last week.

   The senators, including Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and 
Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, the top Democrat on a panel that oversees the Postal 
Service, said any changes to Postal Service operations "must be carefully 
considered to ensure they do not limit service for Americans who rely on the 
mail for essentials, especially during a pandemic.''

   In a separate letter, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., asked DeJoy to clarify 
whether the Postal Service plans to close some post offices and reduce hours at 
others in his rural state. Signs at some locations announced proposed closures 
as soon as Aug. 22 or 24, Manchin said, calling any such action a violation of 
both federal law and Postal Service rules that require 120 days' notice before 
any closures.

   "In many areas where reliable broadband is not an option, the Postal Service 
is their only link to medicine, Social Security checks and family members,'' 
Manchin said. "Under new social distancing mandates, the Postal Service has 
become even more essential in keeping rural communities connected and 
economically viable.''

 
 
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