The United States Postal Service is in trouble, elected officials from the Lehigh Valley said in a news conference Tuesday, and they’re not going to stand by without trying to help it.
“Inaction is not an option,” said U.S. Rep. Susan Wild (D-15) in response to recent USPS cuts by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy; cuts that have garnered national attention for their impact on current mail operations and their potential impact on voting by mail in the presidential election this fall. “The very core of our democracy (is) in jeopardy.”
As many as 80 million Americans are expected to vote by mail in the 2020 presidential election, in large part due to the fact that many states–including Pennsylvania–have enabled or expanded that option due to safety concerns related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“The postal service and its workers are truly the pillar of our community,” said Wild, who commended USPS employees for their service in spite of the dangers of COVID-19.
Lehigh Valley Area Local American Postal Workers union president Andrew Kubat said thousands of USPS employees have been infected by the virus during the pandemic, and at least 60 of them have died from it.
“The American Postal Workers Union is vehemently opposed to any changes that will delay, slow down or interfere with the delivery of the mail,” Kubat said.
He noted that the USPS is not a taxpayer-funded entity, relying instead on the sale of stamps to fund its operations.
Wild also made it a point to emphasize that the post office operates as a service, as opposed to being a business.
“It is not intended to be a profit-making business” and shouldn’t be judged according to the same standards to which private sector businesses are held, she said.
When Wild was asked specifically about mail-in ballots, she said individuals who will be voting by mail in the upcoming election may contact her office if they need assistance.
She said mail-in ballots should be available in mid-September, and urged anyone who plans to vote by mail to “heed the advice to mail it back early.”
Voters with the ability to deliver their ballots to their county’s election office may wish to consider doing that, Wild added.
Wild also read from a bill called the Delivering for America Act which Congress is expected to vote on this weekend, after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi took the unusual step of calling representatives back from their summer recess in order to address the cuts at the USPS.
Wild said a House oversight committee is scheduled to hear testimony Monday at a hearing to determine what has motivated the cuts, and whether there was any intent with them to impede voting with them, she added.
State Rep. Steve Samuelson (D-135), who represents parts of Bethlehem in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, also spoke in support of the post office’s role in the community at the news conference.
In the 104 years since the Southside post office was constructed, the recent cuts are the first time that the United States Postal Service has been seriously threatened, he said.
Samuelson said the USPS cuts implemented across the country were to have included a significant reduction in the hours of operation at the Southside branch of the post office.
In July, he said a sign was posted in its lobby announcing that instead of nine-and-a-half hours a day, it would soon be open only two hours a day.
After that planned schedule was challenged, the reduction in hours was changed from two hours a day to four hours a day before being abandoned altogether, Samuelson said.
Its hours will remain 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but “(they) shouldn’t have been threatened in the first place,” he said. “All of us depend on the post office.”
Wild said she has heard from several constituents whose mail order prescription refills have been delayed because mail delivery has slowed due to the USPS cuts. As a result, they have had to obtain emergency refills from local pharmacies or risk running out of their medications.
She also noted that many local businesses are heavily reliant on the post office’s timely delivery of supplies, which the cutbacks have threatened.
National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 274 local representative Angelo Fetter asked members of the public to treat their letter carriers with respect, since the recent delays in the delivery of mail and parcels are not their fault.
He said a number of local USPS employees have been subjected to abuse by residents angry that their mail is being delivered behind schedule.
“The public needs to lighten up on our letter carriers,” Fetter said.
“The postal service is bipartisan,” he added.
On Tuesday afternoon, following the news conference, DeJoy announced that he would be suspending his controversial cuts at the USPS until after the November election “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”
“The Postal Service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall. 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,” he said in a news release about the suspension. “The American public 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.”
Below: A local postal union representative speaks at Tuesday’s news conference in South Bethlehem.