Postal Service slowdowns could hurt rural residents during election time

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Letter carriers load mail trucks for delivery.
Letter carriers load mail trucks for deliveries at a U.S. Postal Service facility in McLean, Virginia, July 31. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Recent changes to U.S. Postal Service operations have some rural Ohioans concerned.

Joe Logan, president of the Ohio Farmers Union, the Ohio branch of the National Farmers Union, told Farm and Dairy the organization has seen slowdowns in its mail over the last few months.

The organization sends invoices for memberships and checks through the mail, and has had to reissue several that never got to their destination. These issues coincided with national reports about mail slowdowns.

“It has become very problematic,” Logan said.

Mail slowdowns hurt rural residents who rely on the mail for medications, checks and billing and payments, in areas where the Postal Service is often the only delivery option.

Also, with the pandemic still in progress, it seems likely mail-in or absentee ballots will play a major role in the November election. But some say Postal Service slowdowns could prevent some mail-in ballots from being counted, which is a concern for his organization, Logan told Farm and Dairy.

Changes

Louis DeJoy took over as U.S. postmaster general in June, tasked with making the service more profitable. Since then, operational changes have slowed down the mail nationwide.

The Postal Service recently warned states it can’t guarantee all mail-in ballots for the Nov. 3 election will arrive in time, even if they are mailed by the deadlines.

In response, some states are changing their deadlines. Pennsylvania asked a court to move the deadline for receiving mail ballots to three days after the election, as long as they are mailed before polls close.

In Aug. 24 testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives, DeJoy said many of those changes were already happening when he arrived.

DeJoy said Aug. 18 he would pause some changes due to election concerns, but has not restored decommissioned mail-sorting machines or blue collection boxes, saying they are not needed. He disputed claims he eliminated overtime for Postal Service workers, and said he would continue halting late delivery trips.

DeJoy said the changes are not related to the election. He said the Postal Service is capable of handling all of the mail-in ballots this year, and he will authorize more overtime, extra trips and other measures to ensure that ballots arrive on time.

Logan said reports of sorting equipment and mail boxes being removed, especially in the context of Trump’s criticism of mail-in voting, “give the appearance of intentional actions to degrade the abilities of this important service.”

Live chicks

Logan, who chairs the legislative committee for the National Farmers Union, said members in states across the country are dealing with slowdowns.

He said many rural residents use the Postal Service to get prescriptions, payroll checks, Social Security checks and normal billing and payments. Some also have baby chicks and honey bee colonies delivered through the mail.

The Associated Press reported Aug. 20 that at least 4,800 chicks sent to Maine farmers through the Postal Service arrived dead. Ohio, however, doesn’t seem to have this issue so far.

Meyer Hatchery, in Polk, Ohio, told Farm and Dairy Aug. 25 that it has not had any problems like what farmers in Maine have experienced. The hatchery said while the Postal Service is seeing delays, live orders are typically prioritized.

Jim Chakeres, of the Ohio Poultry Association, told Farm and Dairy the association has not heard of any Ohio hatcheries having problems with shipping. The association is the official state agency for the National Poultry Improvement Plan.

“There’s been a few delays this year, but nothing out of the ordinary to date,” Chakeres said. “Shipping and receiving has been challenged during COVID-19, and I’m sure will continue to be for a while.”

Funding

The Postal Service is struggling financially and is looking for help from Congress to keep going, The Associated Press reports.

Two days before DeJoy’s hearing in the House, the House passed legislation to reverse Postal Service changes and fund the service with $25 billion before the election. The bill is expected to stall in the Senate or be vetoed by the White House.

President Trump has criticized mail-in voting, though it has been an option for years. Trump said Aug. 13 he wants to block funding, a move that would make it harder to process an increased number of mail-in ballots. He later said Aug. 15 that he supports funding for the Postal Service but doesn’t support other parts of a relief package that funding was tied to.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Trump would not consider additional Postal Service funding unless it was part of a broader relief package.

(©2020 Farm and Dairy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. AP contributed to this report.)

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Reporter Sarah Donaldson is a former 4-Her and a Mount Union graduate from Columbiana County, Ohio. She enjoys playing and writing music, cooking, and storytelling in many forms. She can be reached at 800-837-3419 or sarah@farmanddairy.com.

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