Members of Baltimore’s congressional delegation on Friday pressed the U.S. Postal Service to address prolonged service delays, even as the union representing local postal workers says their processing equipment is being dismantled.
In their letter to U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, the lawmakers stated they have received a high volume of complaints describing “major mail delivery issues” in 14 locales in the city and in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.
Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, and Congressmen Kweisi Mfume, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes — all Democrats — urged the postmaster to abandon policies that are causing mail backlogs across the country.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
[ Postal Service warns states across US it cannot guarantee all mail-in ballots will arrive in time to be counted ]
DeJoy ascended to his position in May and has since reduced overtime and imposed other measures that have slowed service. In a memo to staff Thursday, he said the policies have brought “unintended consequences that impacted our overall service levels,” but added that the postal service “must make a number of significant changes which will not be easy, but which are necessary.”
Critics of DeJoy say these operational changes could amount to widespread voter suppression in the coming November presidential election.
A representative for the American Postal Workers Union, Baltimore local 181 said Friday that six mail processing machines — four in Baltimore and two from Linthicum — were taken out of use in early August and are being dismantled.
“This is not the time that any of that should have taken place,” said Sherry McKnight, president of the local 181. “It’s election mail that runs on those machines.”
McKnight said post offices “need to stay viable” and urged residents to call their legislators about the mail delays.
“Let me be clear: The postal workers are going to get it done because we take pride in our work,” she said. “Rain, sleet, snow, it must go. But it’s not like that now. That is causing a hardship because a whole lot of our customers rely on the postal service.”
The delivery delays come during a crucial moment in the COVID-19 pandemic when many Americans are relying on the postal service to deliver absentee ballots, medications, retirement checks and unemployment benefits.
[ As Baltimore-area customers complain of USPS delays, officials wrangle over election ballot deadlines ]
President Donald Trump opposes increasing mail-in voting during the pandemic and says he intends to hold up funding to the postal service in order to make it harder to process an expected surge of mail-in ballots, which he worries could cost him the election.
The postal service recently delivered a warning to 46 states, including Maryland, that their deadlines for requesting absentee ballots may not provide “sufficient time” for ballots to be mailed to voters and returned to the elections office with the required Election Day postmark.
The Maryland elections board has since voted to move that deadline to Oct. 20, which still is one day less than the 15 days before Election Day that the postal service says is the minimum time span.
Congressional leaders for Maryland say they’ve received complaints from residents in Dundalk, Essex, Brooklyn Park, Gwynn Oaks, Walbrook, Randallstown, Catonsville, Reisterstown, Towson, Cherry Hill, Parkville, Penn-North, Pikesville and Halethorpe.
Thomas Cusack, who lives in the Brewers Hill neighborhood of East Baltimore, noted that over the past week, his mail had come about four to six hours later than it usually came. He reported that one expected delivery came as late as 8:05 p.m.
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”I think [it’s] almost comically demonstrative of what’s going on in the news in terms of concerns about mail delays,” Cusack said. “Almost in sync with concerns and mentioning of the limitation of resources to the postal service, my own postal service has slowed down.”
Cusack said mail service employees are “absolutely foundational to the way our economy runs.”
“We need them,” he said of the postal workers. “I think it is unbelievably cynical for the federal government to undermine the work they do at a point...where so many people are relying on the mail.”
Cary Hansel said the slowdown presents a problem to practicing lawyers like himself who handle important documents through paper filing. The attorney said he was recently forced to track down a settlement check for a client in a civil rights case after a first mailed check failed to arrive.
“We waited two weeks and still hadn’t seen the check,” Hansel said.
“All appearances are that the president is playing games for political advantage, with the postal service,” he said. “But the problems and risks go well beyond people’s ability to vote, and in my case, involve people’s fundamental civil rights. So there’s a real threat to people.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Emily Opilo and The Associated Press contributed to this article.