Third in a series of reports on the local effects of the crisis in the U.S. Postal Service.
The Trump administration’s unprecedented assault on the Postal Service, which has affected small businesses, weekly newspapers, and others who depend on reliable mail delivery, especially in rural areas, has now made national headlines. President Trump’s decision to let the Postal Service run out of money has gotten the attention of policy makers and newspaper editors who recognize the threat his actions pose to this year’s election.
The Independent’s efforts over the past two months to get answers from local postal officials and employees have failed; it seems clear that they have been warned not to speak to reporters. But some recently retired Cape Cod postal workers are not as reticent with their opinions.
Former Cotuit and Barnstable postal clerk Kate Armstrong confirmed reports that recently appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major donor to the Trump campaign, had, in effect, ordered a mail slowdown in a July memo instructing workers to leave mail undelivered.
“A multitude of things affect the timeliness of the mail,” said Armstrong. “Now we have a new postmaster general and we are hearing about ‘no overtime’ and ‘leave the mail behind.’ Well, that’s unheard of.”
Jean Flynn, a former East Sandwich postmaster, said DeJoy’s edicts contradicted the Postal Service’s time-honored mission.
“I’m appalled by the new postmaster general’s view that ‘Well, if we can’t do the mail without overtime, we’ll just let it sit till the next day.’ That’s not proper. It’s not the way the Postal Service has ever operated.”
To date, the Postal Service has received no direct Covid relief funding, only a $10 billion loan from the U.S. Treasury. Democrats in Congress are proposing a new relief act that would give the Postal Service $25 billion in grants.
Trump opposes voting by mail, which he thinks will favor the Democrats in November. He went on record on the Fox Business Network calling mail-in ballots “ridiculous,” and accused Democrats of supporting voter fraud. He admitted that his opposition to Postal Service funding is one of the issues holding up the coronavirus stimulus package.
The appeal of mail-in ballots is not simply a matter of convenience but safety. The CDC reported that “elections with only in-person voting on a single day are higher risk for Covid-19 spread because there will be larger crowds and longer wait times.” The New York Times reported that at least 75 percent of U.S. citizens will be eligible to vote by mail this year, with predictions of mail-in ballots standing at 80 million.
This volume of mail would create severe strain for the Postal Service if current budgets and operations are in place. Postal Service General Counsel Thomas Marshall wrote letters to 46 states and the District of Columbia warning that ballots may arrive late and not be counted.
DeJoy said the structural changes he ordered were made in the name of efficiency. Kate Armstrong said these concerns are not new. “Periodically, there’s changes and there’s cutbacks and the thing especially in recent years is ‘Stick to the budget, keep the overtime low,’ ” she said.
CNN reported that DeJoy admitted his changes “had unintended consequences that impacted our overall service levels.” Meanwhile, he insisted that all mail — including ballots — will not be delayed.
Experienced postal workers disagree. “If they’re not allowed to do any overtime, then I don’t know how they would be getting everything delivered,” said Armstrong.
All inquiries to local post offices are now directed to the northeast corporate communications specialist for the U.S.P.S. Despite repeated efforts, the Independent is still waiting for a response from that person. Armstrong suggested that even the official spokesmen may not know what is going on.
“You don’t know what the communications are from way up high,” she said. “Postal employees learn more from the press than internally.”
What is certain is that the dismantling of the Postal Service is politically motivated, according to Miles Rapaport, senior practice fellow in American democracy at the Harvard Kennedy School.
“This is absolutely a political attack on the Postal Service to undermine mail-in voting for a November election which is going to rely on mail-in voting more than ever before,” Rapoport said. “It’s completely wrong, and serious efforts to protect the Postal Service from political interference and manipulation need to be undertaken as soon as possible.”
He urged citizens to take action. “Everybody should be contacting their legislators, particularly their Congresspeople, to demand that this attack be stopped,” he said, adding, “Send in your application for a mail-in ballot the first day you receive it. If you don’t receive your ballot, change your plans, put on your mask, and go vote in person.”
Cana Tagawa’s summer fellowship with the Independent is supported by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University.