House to go back into session early to vote on USPS bill

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi is cutting short lawmakers’ summer recess with a vote expected the Saturday after the Democratic National Convention on legislation that would prohibit changes at the agency as tensions mount. 

New postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, has sparked nationwide outcry over delays, new prices and cutbacks just as millions of Americans will be trying to vote by mail to avoid polling places during the coronavirus outbreak.

“In a time of a pandemic, the Postal Service is Election Central,” Pelosi wrote Sunday in a letter to colleagues, who had been expected to be out of session until September.

Earlier Sunday, Democratic lawmakers demanded that leaders of the Postal Service testify at an emergency oversight hearing Aug. 24 on mail delays.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee said it wants to hear from DeJoy and from the chair of the Postal Service board of governors, Robert “Mike” Duncan.

With heightened scrutiny of its operations, the Postal Service is now requesting a temporary pre-election rate increase, from mid-October through Christmas, although not for first-class letters.

The agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment about whether the two men would appear before the House committee. But it said Sunday it would stop removing its distinctive blue mailboxes through mid-November following complaints from customers and members of Congress that the collection boxes were being taken away.

“Given the recent customer concerns the Postal Service will postpone removing boxes for a period of 90 days while we evaluate our customers’ concerns,″ Postal Service spokeswoman Kimberly Frum said.

House Democrats are expected to discuss the lawmakers’ schedule details on a conference call on Monday and were likely to be in session next Saturday, a senior Democratic aide said on condition of anonymity because the plans were private.

The legislation being prepared for the vote, the “Delivering for America Act,” would prohibit the Postal Service from implementing any changes to operations or level of service it had in place on Jan. 1.

DeJoy, who took control of the agency in June, has pledged to modernize the money-losing agency to make it more efficient, and has eliminated most overtime for postal workers, imposed restrictions on transportation and reduced the quantity and use of mail-processing equipment.

In announcing the upcoming hearing, congressional Democrats said in a statement: “The postmaster general and top Postal Service leadership must answer to the Congress and the American people as to why they are pushing these dangerous new policies that threaten to silence the voices of millions, just months before the election.”

The lawmakers included Pelosi of California and New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the committee chair, along with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees the Postal Service.

The agency in the meantime is now seeking a short-term, end-of-the-year rate increase, according to a notice filed Friday with the Postal Regulatory Commission. The reasons: increased expenses, heightened demand for online packages due to the coronavirus pandemic and an expected increase in holiday mail volume.

The plan would raise prices on commercial domestic competitive parcels, including Priority Mail Express, Priority Mail, first-class package service, Parcel Select and Parcel Return Service.

Most of the proposed increases would be less than 10%. They range from 24 cents for Parcel Select Service, which starts at $3.05, to a $1.50 increase for Priority Mail Express Commercial, which starts at $22.75. The regulatory commission is expected to decide on the proposals next month.

The Postal Service is the country’s most popular government agency with 91% of Americans having a favorable opinion of the service, according to a Pew Research Center Survey published in April.

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