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New USPS rescue bill this week? What it is and why it might happen – CNET



USPS collection boxes near Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Erin Scott/Bloomberg/Getty Images

This story is part of Elections 2020, CNET’s coverage of the run-up to voting in November.

The US House of Representatives will return from its August recess early to vote later this week on legislation addressing recent changes to the US Postal Service that could impact the ability for people to vote by mail during the November presidential election amid the coronavirus pandemic. But Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced on Tuesday that he will suspend all operational changes to the US Postal Service until after the election, to “avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”

This means the USPS will not change its retail hours or close mail processing facilities, and mail collection boxes will remain where they are, according to DeJoy. But it’s likely that the USPS will still need the planned injection of money that separate bills proposed by Democrats and Republicans will reportedly seek to provide. And some Democrats have said that the operational changes must be reversed, not just suspended temporarily.

The Democratic bill is still being finalized, House Democratic leaders said during a caucus call Monday. It will, however, incorporate a version of Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s Delivering for America Act, introduced last week in response to the changes proposed by DeJoy that were said to be undermining the operations and organizational structure of the USPS. Due to these changes, USPS warned election officials in 46 states that mail-in ballots may not be delivered on time, potentially disrupting the November presidential election — especially as up to 80 million mail-in ballots are expected this election season.

A final version of the bill is expected on Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told members. It will include a request for $25 billion in funding for the USPS, she said Tuesday. This funding was originally included in a larger coronavirus stimulus package, but negotiations between House Democrats and Republicans broke down before Congress adjourned on Aug. 7.

“Our Postal Service should not become an instrument of partisan politics, but instead must be protected as a neutral, independent entity that focuses on one thing and one thing only — delivering the mail,” Maloney said in a statement on Aug. 12.

Senate Republicans said Monday that they would introduce a new coronavirus relief bill that includes $10 billion for the USPS. The text of that bill is also expected on Tuesday.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Delivering for America Act, and when Congress is expected to vote on it.

What’s the controversy with the USPS?

The current controversy involving the USPS started in June, when DeJoy, a major GOP donor, took the role of postmaster general. President Donald Trump tasked DeJoy with trying to make the postal service more profitable. DeJoy rolled out a series of cost-cutting measures including cutting overtime, reorganizing the agency’s structure and calling for late-arriving mail to be delivered the next day. This has resulted in a national slowdown of mail.

“Millions of people rely on the Postal Service every day to communicate, to access critical medications, and to vote,” Maloney said. “A once-in-a-century pandemic is no time to enact changes that threaten service reliability and transparency. The Delivering for America Act would reverse these changes so this fundamental American service can continue unimpeded.”

On Aug. 12, Democrats from the House and Senate (PDFs) signed letters expressing concern that DeJoy’s policies would cause delays to election mail, including mail-in and absentee ballots, which more states are allowing to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

“Despite any assertions to the contrary, we are not slowing down election mail or any other mail,” DeJoy reportedly said Friday. “Instead we continue to employ a robust and proven process to ensure proper handling of all election mail.”

DeJoy is set to testify at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Friday, and before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Monday, about the recent changes made to the USPS.

For a more in-depth look, read our article about what’s been going on with USPS.

Mail-in, or absentee, ballots are seen as a safe way for millions of Americans to vote during the coronavirus pandemic. That requires a fully functional USPS that can handle the increased load.
Jason Redmond/Getty Images

What exactly does the new USPS bill entail?

Democrats plan to present the final version of the bill on Tuesday, according to CNN. But the current Delivering for America Act states that from the time it is enacted until either Jan. 1, 2021, or the last day of the COVID-19 pandemic — whichever is later — the USPS may not implement or approve any change to its operations or level of service, other than those that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Changes that would be prohibited if this version of the bill passes include:

  • Any change in the nature of postal services which will generally affect service on a nationwide basis.
  • Any revision of service standards.
  • Any closure or consolidation of any post office, or reduction of facility hours.
  • Any prohibition on overtime pay to USPS officers or employees.
  • Any change that would prevent the USPS from meeting its service standards, or cause a decline in performance.
  • Any change that would delay mail or increase the volume of undelivered mail.

The purpose of the bill is “to maintain prompt and reliable postal services during the COVID-19 health emergency, and for other purposes,” it says.

It’s not yet clear how this bill could change now that DeJoy reportedly plans to roll back the operational changes to USPS.

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When will Congress vote on the USPS bill?

On Sunday, Pelosi called the House to return from its break early to vote on the Delivering for America Act.

“In a time of a pandemic, the Postal Service is Election Central,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to Congress on Sunday. “Lives, livelihoods and the life of our American Democracy are under threat from the president.”

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CNN on Sunday that he was open to “piecemeal” legislation around the US Postal Service, as well as around stimulus relief.

“If we can agree on postal, let’s do it. If we can agree on stimulus checks, let’s do it,” Meadows said. “Congress needs to come back and get their act together.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday that the USPS would be “just fine,” and that the Trump administration was willing to spend up to $10 billion “just to make sure the post office is on good firm footing going into the November election,” as part of negotiations on another coronavirus aid package.

The vote on the Delivering for America Act is expected to come Saturday, after the Democratic National Convention wraps up. We don’t know for sure if it will happen then, but we will update this article when more information is available.

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