Postal Service Protest in Lancaster

Mimi Shapiro, of Lancaster, holds up her sign, as members of the local American Postal Workers Union and several concerned citizens protested changes made to the U.S. Postal Service by Postmaster General Louie DeJoy. The protest was held at the post office annex in downtown Lancaster on Tuesday Aug. 25, 2020.

THE ISSUE

U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy recently imposed operational measures that have significantly slowed mail delivery in advance of the presidential election, according to multiple news accounts. DeJoy told a U.S. Senate committee in August that he would suspend those measures until after the Nov. 3 election, but media reports have documented the disabling and destruction of mail-sorting machines across the country, and DeJoy said that equipment would not be restored. As the Kaiser Family Foundation has detailed, “Changes to the Postal Service’s delivery standards have potential implications that extend beyond those for the election.”

Concerns over the Postal Service may no longer be getting banner headlines — in 2020, one crisis follows another — but we continue to have them.

And we continue to wonder why Congressman Lloyd Smucker has failed so completely to comprehend the potential costs to his constituents if the Postal Service doesn’t deliver mail quickly.

On Aug. 22, Smucker voted against HR 8015, the Delivering for America Act, a bill that would have prohibited the Postal Service from making operational changes that would slow mail delivery during the COVID-19 public health emergency, and would provide the service with an additional $25 billion in funding.

Smucker dismissed the bill — which was co-sponsored by Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Bucks County, and passed 257-150 — as the product of “hysteria” and “trumped up charges,” manufactured by Democrats, about the Postal Service. “This bill is short-sighted, misguided and unnecessary and the allegations from some of my colleagues across the aisle are untruthful,” he said in a statement explaining his “no” vote.

His GOP colleague, Congressman Fitzpatrick, had a dramatically different view of the legislation.

“We should be preserving and enhancing USPS delivery standards and services, not implementing operational changes that could delay delivery times and undermine quality services that every American depends on,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “Right now, Americans across the country are relying on the USPS to deliver medications, essential goods, and ballots. The USPS is not a partisan issue, it is a constitutionally mandated public service that every American relies on.”

Smucker continues to assert that the Postal Service “must undergo substantial reforms in order to preserve its services and meet its long-term financial obligations.”

He fails to mention that one such obligation was mandated by Congress in an onerous 2006 law that required the agency to pre-fund future retiree health benefits according to a 50-year schedule.

The Postal Service is the only federal agency required to fulfill such a burden.

As we wrote in an Aug. 12 editorial, “The Postal Service is just that — a federal service to Americans of all income levels and political persuasions. And its ability to operate effectively in a pandemic — and to convey the ballots of Americans worried about voting at their polling places — should be a priority of Congress.” (The Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General released its audit Monday of the agency’s readiness to handle election mail. We’ll address that in another editorial.)

The Postal Service should be a priority not just because millions of Americans — including an estimated 120,000 Lancaster County residents — are expected to vote by mail, but because Americans of all political stripes depend on it to have their everyday needs met.

This is especially the case in the rural communities of Lancaster and York counties, which make up a sizable portion of the 11th Congressional District — which Smucker represents.

A small business owner in a rural community may have to drive miles to the nearest drop-off box for a private delivery company, and likely would pay more for that company’s services.

Rural residents have relied on the U.S. Postal Service for mailing and receiving goods since Congress approved parcel post delivery in 1913, according to a 2019 government report. It noted that “package delivery to rural households continues to be an essential service.”

And package delivery isn’t just essential in rural areas.

It’s essential to military veterans who get prescriptions through the mail.

In a statement released Aug. 17, Stephen “Butch” Whitehead, the national commander of DAV — a nonprofit serving vets — said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs had confirmed that the Postal Service, “which is responsible for delivering about 90% of all VA mail order prescriptions, has indeed been delayed in delivering these critical medications by an average of almost 25% over the past year.”

“It is simply unacceptable that America’s veterans, particularly those who were injured or made ill in defense of this country, should face the prospect of not receiving necessary medications in a timely manner considering such delays can be the difference between health and sickness, or even worse,” Whitehead said.

It is indeed unacceptable.

And it’s not just veterans who rely on mailed prescriptions.

“In 2019, sales of mail-order prescriptions in the U.S. totaled nearly $145 billion (excluding rebates),” the Kaiser Family Foundation noted. “Getting prescriptions through mail-order pharmacies can offer convenience and cost savings to patients. Many large group plan enrollees choose to fill prescriptions at reduced cost through the mail, while others are only able to fill scripts at a mail-order pharmacy.”

The foundation added: “Drugs used to treat chronic conditions, including hypothyroidism, high cholesterol, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes, are among the prescriptions most commonly filled by mail order for Medicare Part D enrollees and large employer plan enrollees. ... Therefore, delays in delivery due to changes to the operations of the U.S. Postal Service could lead to negative health consequences if it compromises patients’ ability to adhere to their medication regimens.”

The last thing we need in a pandemic is for people with chronic conditions — already at elevated risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes — to miss their medications.

As Congressman Fitzpatrick maintained, concerns about mail delivery should not be partisan. Smucker should be working to ensure that all his constituents — not just the ones who subscribe to his newsletter — are being adequately served by the U.S. Postal Service.

On a related note, we appreciate the efforts of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro to ensure that operational changes do not hobble the Postal Service.

A motion for expedited consideration in a lawsuit filed by Shapiro and other states’ attorneys general against Postmaster DeJoy was granted Monday by a federal judge.

We hope it is resolved in the favor of Pennsylvanians who rely on the Postal Service — that is, nearly all of us.