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Postal Service’s Election Role Becomes Flashpoint in Stimulus Talks

(C) Bloomberg. A letter carrier wears a protective mask while preparing mail for delivery at a United States Postal Service (USPS) facility in Fairfax, Virginia, U.S., on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. The Postal Service in recent weeks has sought bids from consulting firms to reassess what the agency charges companies such as Amazon, UPS and FedEx to deliver products on their behalf between a post office and a customer’s home, the Washington Post reported last week. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) — House Democrats want to throw a financial lifeline to the struggling U.S. Postal Service amid concerns that mail delays could lead to hundreds of thousands of legitimate votes being thrown out, potentially skewing the election. Senate Republicans say the money isn’t needed.

Stimulus legislation the House passed in May includes a $25 billion grant for the Postal Service, which has seen a downturn in bulk mail during the Covid-19 pandemic. The smaller aid proposal floated by Senate Republicans has no new USPS funding, with GOP lawmakers saying an earlier loan program is sufficient.

The money has become one of several sticking points in negotiations between top congressional Democrats and representatives of President Donald Trump, a longtime skeptic of the Postal Service’s management.

Democrats have focused their ire on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Republican donor appointed by Trump in May, who has implemented new rules that they believe are slowing mail delivery.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said he demanded that DeJoy reverse cuts in overtime and staffing during what he called a “heated discussion” on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

“He had some answers,” Schumer said. “I don’t think we found them adequate.”

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Democrats were looking for a “fall guy” for vote-by-mail problems such as the long delays in reporting results from New York’s June primary.

“It’s not a post office problem,” Meadows said. “It’s an election problem, with the secretary of states in each state.”

At stake are votes in 34 states — including nearly all of the presidential battlegrounds — that won’t count mail-in ballots unless they are received on or before Election Day, regardless of when the voter sent them.

Voting rights groups have expressed concern that delays in service amid a surge in voting by mail could lead to ballots being thrown out. That’s already happened in primaries held during the pandemic, even in states without stringent requirements.

In Virginia, where mail-in ballots are counted if they are postmarked on Election Day and received within three days, more than 5% of mail-in ballots in the June primary were rejected for arriving late, according to National Public Radio. That’s five times the national rejection rate in the 2016 general election.

The fight over funding is running up against Trump’s long-running criticism of the Postal Service.

Trump has claimed without evidence that the USPS is losing money delivering packages for Inc (NASDAQ:AMZN)., which has been a frequent target of the president’s ire because of Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos’ ownership of the Washington Post. While the contract is not publicly available, the Postal Service is required by a 2006 law to cover its costs on package delivery, and its chief financial officer said in 2017 that it’s “inaccurate” to say it delivers packages below cost.

The Postal Service’s budget problems are also due to that same 2006 law, which required the agency to pre-pay 100% of health care costs for its retired workers. That mandate has kept the service from turning a profit from 2013 to 2018, according to a 2018 report from the Treasury Department.

Ronnie Stutts, president of the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, which represents more than 100,000 mail carriers, said the recent changes are in a “testing phase” and he wanted to reserve judgment on them for now.

“We have every reason to believe that the Postal Service will be ready to handle the ballots during the upcoming election,” he said.

(C)2020 Bloomberg L.P.

Postal Service’s Election Role Becomes Flashpoint in Stimulus Talks