WASHINGTON – Democrats are swarming to block a key piece of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s 10-year restructuring plan for the U.S. Postal Service, casting doubt on the feasibility of his proposals for achieving financial stability for the agency.
A group of House Democrats on Friday introduced legislation to prohibit the Postal Service from lengthening mail-delivery windows and require it to adhere to present service expectations. They named the bill the Delivering Envelopes Judiciously On-time Year-round Act, or DEJOY Act.
One House aide involved in postal reform legislation introduced in February said some members of the caucus are leery of proceeding with efforts to address the Postal Service’s financial obligations given that DeJoy’s 10-year plan includes sharp reductions in service, including slower timetables for mail delivery and reduced post office hours.
Separately, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, D, threatened to take legal action to block the service cuts.
His office said in a statement Friday that it was encouraged that DeJoy recognizes the legal obligations to secure limited regulatory approvals, but said it remained concern about timely mail delivery.
Mounting concern among Democrats, who can afford few defections from their narrow House majority if they hope to pass postal reform, could throw off the postmaster general’s entire “Delivering for America” proposal.
DeJoy hopes to save the Postal Service $160 billion over the next decade through a combination of austerity measures, postage price increases and projected package volume growth. But the largest single piece of his plan is dependent on Congress repealing its pre-funding mandate for retiree health care costs, which runs about $5 billion a year. Instead, the agency wants to wind down those payments and enroll future retirees in Medicare, a proposal worth $44 billion.
A bill introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chair of the powerful House Oversight and Reform Committee, includes both components.
But DeJoy’s designs to slow the mail – even as the Postal Service attempts to rebound from generationally poor service metrics in recent months – and perceived animus toward lawmakers in recent hearings have made those prospects more difficult.
Under current “service standards,” or the amount of time the Postal Service allots itself to deliver a piece of mail, it should take no more than three days for a first-class mail item to arrive, regardless of where it is being sent in the United States. Under DeJoy’s new plan, the three-day standard would still apply to 70% of first-class mail items. But for the remaining 30% – which is roughly 5 billion pieces of mail – the benchmark will go from three to as many as five days based on destination mileage.
“This particular change, going from 100% of first-class mail being delivered one to three days to only 70%, would be a nonstarter, in my opinion, with the American people,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., who introduced the DEJOY Act with six Democratic co-sponsors, told The Washington Post.
The DeJoy’s plan presents service cuts as a necessity given falling mail volume, inconsistency in the Postal Service’s largely private-sector “middle mile” transportation network and spiraling transportation costs required to ferry fewer pieces of mail cross-country.
Postal Service spokesman David Partenheimer said in an emailed statement that the agency would “strongly oppose a freeze on the current unachieved and unachievable service standards,” and said that though the agency had tried to meet delivery expectations in recent years, it largely has fallen short.”
The modifications we are proposing will enable us to improve reliability by shifting volume from unreliable air transportation to more reliable ground transportation,” Partenheimer said, “and facilitate network improvements that will ensure that we can meet or exceed 95% on-time delivery across all of our mail and shipping product classes during all times of the year.”
In an interview Tuesday, DeJoy told The Post that the Postal Service did not view the cuts as a fundamental disruption in service, and the agency has already submitted plans to the Postal Regulatory Commission to change service standards.
“We do not believe that any of these changes that we are proposing or moving forward on are hugely impacting or changing the structure and the service of the Postal Service,” DeJoy said.
The Postal Service’s chief financial officer, Joseph Corbett, cautioned during a Tuesday webinar announcing the plan that failure to swiftly adopt any of its tenants would come with significant ramifications.
“If we encounter roadblocks with any of the major elements, we quickly get into negative territory and may face annual losses for the coming decade,” Corbett said. “The scale of consequences from being constrained or slowed in our implementation of initiatives would be sizable.”
But mail industry experts worry that degrading service standards could chase away businesses that can no longer afford or tolerate slower, more expensive delivery. DeJoy’s plan also calls for price increases, but he declined to disclose them in the webinar or in the interview. Several mailing firms and advocacy organizations are suing the agency’s regulator to block it from allowing the Postal Service to raise prices.
Industry officials are also critical of the plan’s pivot toward the Postal Service’s package business and away from paper mail. DeJoy in the interview with The Post said he was “not a magician” and “I can’t create the need for mail.”
“In the entire fifty-eight pages of the plan there does not appear to be any effort to retain mail volume,” PostCom, a national postal commerce advocacy group, wrote in its Thursday industry bulletin. “Apart from price increases and service reductions, there is little about mail in the plan at all. That’s inaction.”
“This part of the plan will drive mail volume down to levels not seen since before it reached 100 billion in 1980,” the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers wrote in its newsletter. “If we mailers win our federal lawsuit, the plan is sunk.”
Lawmakers are beginning to share that concern as they’re bombarded with calls from local constituents worried about if their medications, paychecks and bills will arrive late. Already over the summer when DeJoy implemented a smaller round of service cuts, major mail-order pharmacies told Senate investigators that some patients experienced “significant” delays in receiving mailed prescriptions. In recent months, untold numbers of consumers have complained of late fees assessed on bills that were held up in the mail.
“This is the best way to kill your business,” Krishnamoorthi said, “which is to basically say to your customers, ‘We’re not going to meet your expectations. You’re going to meet our service realities, regardless of what ends up happening.'”