Members of Congress representing Philadelphia met with local leaders of the U.S. Postal Service and city election officials Wednesday to advocate for funding for the agency amid what they called an “insidious attempt” to undermine mail delivery.
Democratic U.S. Reps. Brendan Boyle, Dwight Evans, and Mary Gay Scanlon, along with State Rep. Kevin Boyle, gathered at Madison War Memorial Park with local leaders of postal unions as the Postal Service struggles to function amid crushing debt and policy changes that are causing extensive delays in mail delivery across the city.
The lawmakers said there is an urgent need to address the issue before the November election, which is expected to have an unprecedented number of voters casting ballots by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is not an exaggeration, this is no hyperbole,” said Brendan Boyle, who represents Northeast Philadelphia. “We are facing an unmitigated disaster at the Postal Service.
“It needs this emergency funding, otherwise we won’t have a postal service, and we won’t have a free and fair election by vote-by-mail,” he said.
The lawmakers said they are fighting for a new coronavirus economic relief package to include funding for the agency. Boyle said he was confident that “we will not see a stimulus bill” be passed by Congress “unless funding for the Postal Service is in there.”
Negotiations over that relief package have been locked in a near-stalemate for days as Republicans oppose extending unemployment benefits enacted when the pandemic first sent the economy into a tailspin and put millions out of work.
The meeting came just days after The Inquirer published an article detailing mail delivery problems in Philadelphia. Neighborhoods across the city are experiencing delays, with some residents going upward of three weeks without packages and letters, leaving them without medication, paychecks, and bills.
“In the past few weeks, I have had hundreds of calls, letters, and emails from constituents across this region saying, ‘Where is my mail?’” said Scanlon, whose Delaware County district also includes part of South Philadelphia.
Also on Wednesday, New Jersey lawmakers sent a letter to the postmaster general to express their concern over mail delays across the Garden State. They requested answers to questions about what is causing the delays and how the situation could affect the election.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the Postal Service’s decades-long financial troubles; the agency projects it will lose $2 billion each month during the recession. Staff shortages, which have increased as workers contract the virus, come at a time when the Postal Service is processing twice as many parcels in Philadelphia than before the pandemic, as more people shop online and stay home.
The new postmaster general, who is a campaign donor to President Donald Trump, has instituted policy changes that eliminate overtime, instruct carriers to leave mail behind to speed up their workdays, and slash office hours. The lawmakers and elections officials acknowledged the impact those delays could have on the upcoming election.
“Constituents have called with concerns about their vote-by-mail ballot, they have questions about their vote-by-mail application, and for us to not fund the Postal Service is a disenfranchisement to our voters,” said Omar Sabir, one of the three Philadelphia city commissioners, who oversee elections.
When asked whether any immediate action could be taken locally to mitigate the delays, lawmakers said little can be done without funding.