For months now, essential workers across the region have braved the pandemic to keep life as normal as possible for the rest of us. Hospital nurses, grocery store clerks, police and firefighters and many others who labor in less prominent roles. And then there is the U.S. Postal Service. In Dundalk, the daily line for picking up undelivered mail snakes outside the post office. Some city residents complain of not receiving mail deliveries for two weeks. Bills are not getting paid, checks and medical prescriptions are going undelivered and frustrations are growing.
Leah Biddinger, president of the Sussex Community Association, says it’s gotten so bad that she and other residents of her Essex neighborhood have sought help from their local congressman to try to straighten things out. Mail delivery, she notes, started to become unreliable last year well before the pandemic but it’s only gotten worse since the lockdown with mail often placed in the wrong mailboxes; sometimes it’s even mail clearly addressed to an out-of-state location. Local residents “deliver more mail than the mailman does,” she adds, “and there are weeks when we don’t get mail for three or four days at a time or it doesn’t arrive until 10 o’clock at night.”
It appears that the slowdown is no accident. Policy changes recently instituted by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to prohibit overtime and extra mail processing at regional plants and post offices are simply the latest harm done to mail delivery. Top Democrats in Congress have said Mr. DeJoy and other senior Trump administration officials essentially admitted in private conversation that delays have worsened as these new procedures have been implemented. Members of the American Postal Workers Union have long complained that the administration is bent on privatizing the USPS and has been using the COVID-19 pandemic as a means to cut service and “starve” the organization. And the effort would also dovetail nicely with President Donald Trump’s otherwise mistaken claims that voting by mail is a corrupt and unworkable alternative to in-person voting.
But then one must also factor in sheer incompetence. Mr. DeJoy is a major Republican Party fundraiser who just a few months ago became the first postmaster general in nearly two decades with no United States Postal Service experience whatsoever. At the time of his selection, the North Carolina businessman was busy raising money for the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. So the possibility that he might be either deliberately or through sheer inexperience be messing up a 49-year-old independent agency of the executive branch is not exactly a stretch. His major overhaul of USPS leadership on Friday does not inspire confidence. And all that might be perfectly fine with the White House given President Donald Trump’s obvious antagonism toward the Postal Service which he has called a “joke” and a “delivery boy” for Amazon.
Surely, the pandemic has made it more difficult to deliver the mail just as it’s made it more difficult to run grocery stores and medical facilities. But Americans can tell the difference between reasonable and unreasonable delays. In our lifetimes, it’s never been this bad. And isn’t it curious that when it came time to help the USPS deal with a serious drop in revenue because of the pandemic, Mr. Trump’s GOP allies in Congress took what was originally a $13 billion grant in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and turned it into a $10 billion loan that leaves the organization still seriously in the red.
All of which suggests there’s some sabotage going on here. Whether it’s to give the Trump administration an opportunity to scrap the USPS and put it in private hands, or to discourage mail-in voting in November is anyone’s guess. And one can’t discount the possibility that it’s just being mismanaged out of sheer incompetence as there’s quite a bit of that going on these days in Washington. Still, the situation is not beyond salvation. Step one would be to rollback recent changes and install managers who know what they’re doing whether at the national or local level. And it needs to happen immediately. Whether Mr. Trump supports mail-in balloting or not, it’s happening in three months and the last thing the country needs is the possibility the incumbent is manipulating the election results by wrecking mail delivery.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels, writer Peter Jensen and summer intern Anjali DasSarma — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.