My sister and I were born in a coal mining town in West Virginia, but we grew up in Danville, Virginia – the last capital of the Confederacy. As children, we saw racism and prejudice up close. In fact, back then, Virginia still had a poll tax in place. It was an insidious and obvious tool of voter suppression designed to keep Black voters from the ballot box.
Today, we’re witnessing a new form of voter suppression right before our eyes. In the midst of a deadly pandemic, when Americans are even more reliant on regular and on-time deliveries, the United States Postal Service has abandoned one of its longstanding core values: to deliver every piece of mail to every home and business every day.
Deliveries that seniors and small businesses depend on have been delayed and, in some cases, not made at all. Mail that keeps rural communities connected is late. Pension checks, bill payments, Social Security benefits, donations to churches and other nonprofit organizations are not arriving. The list goes on.
Additionally, just two-and-a-half months before a presidential election, when millions of Americans are calling for the ability to vote safely by mail in the midst of a pandemic, a number of blue collection boxes and mail processing equipment, critical to processing a record number of mail-in ballots, have been removed without explanation.
Make no mistake. This is voter suppression. President Trump even admitted it himself, saying that he was withholding funding for the Postal Service so that Americans “can’t have universal mail-in voting.”
This morning, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where I’ve served for close to 20 years, will finally have the opportunity to get straight answers from Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general who was appointed just three months ago and is a longtime ally of President Trump.
Frankly, it should not have taken this long. For weeks, my colleagues and I have been demanding answers on behalf of our constituents. Even as Americans were sounding the alarm, it was radio silence from the postmaster general. When we finally got a response, our offices were told that, despite what our constituents were telling us, nothing had changed at the Postal Service.
We know that was not true. And, unfortunately, it gets worse. According to a new report, we have learned that the leadership at the Postal Service is secretly considering changes that are even more troubling than those we’ve seen so far. New reports indicate that the postmaster general and his team are considering weakening service standards for all Americans. They are also looking at dramatically increasing rates for packages and first class mail, which may well deliver a body blow to small businesses that are already struggling for to survive. Seniors, minorities, rural communities, and those who lack access to reliable broadband service in states across America stand to suffer the most under Mr. DeJoy’s plan that we’re just learning about. Perhaps most shockingly, this secret plan also calls for eliminating the fundamental mechanisms that make mail delivery accessible to Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, while dramatically eroding the competitive advantage that the Postal Service has over its private sector package delivery competitors, raising shipping costs for all of us.
Mr. DeJoy has said in the past few days that further operational changes will be halted until after the election. However, that assurance came only after public uproar and the prospect of two congressional hearings, and it was before we learned of these most recent harmful long-term policy proposals that are apparently being considered. Further, Mr. DeJoy’s assurances do nothing to undo the harm that has already been done.
This is hardly the time to take our foot off the gas. During our hearing today, we need to find out what changes have been implemented so far, how Mr. DeJoy intends to undo the damage those changes have already caused, and why he mistakenly believes he can enact such sweeping changes without notifying relevant oversight committees in Congress or consulting with the entity that regulates the Postal Service – the Postal Regulatory Commission.
We in Congress have an obligation to protect the tens of millions of Postal Service customers we all represent by conducting rigorous oversight. The Senate should also act quickly to pass the commonsense legislation I’ve authored with the top Democrat on our committee, Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.), to block the Postmaster General from making any abrupt and sweeping changes that might harm service during this election season and for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.
This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. The Postal Service quite literally touches every household in America. From our largest cities to our smallest rural towns, it’s the Postal Service that goes the extra mile and makes sure Americans get what they need. I’ve spent the last 20 years fighting to preserve and protect this American institution. I’m not going to stop now.