Guest Opinion: Stopping postal service delays that hurt Minnesotans

Sen. Tina Smith
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith

As I’ve traveled across Minnesota, I’ve seen the important role that the U.S. Postal Service plays in the lives of people across our state.

From small towns and rural communities to our largest cities, millions of Minnesotans depend upon the USPS to deliver the letters and packages that fuel their lives and our state’s economy. And this year, hundreds of thousands of our state’s residents plan to vote by mail.

Unfortunately, the sudden operational and leadership changes put in place this summer by newly-installed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy — including removing mail-sorting machines and denying overtime to postal workers — have slowed delivery for millions in Minnesota and across the country.

Every American should have reliable postal service, and I’ve raised questions about the recent disruptions because they hurt veterans, older citizens, rural residents, and those in the military who depend on the mail for important things like life-saving medications, paychecks, Social Security checks, census forms, and ballots.

One Minnesotan, at high-risk for COVID-19, has been ordering much-needed prescriptions by mail to avoid going to the pharmacy in person. He told me he had just five days of medication left and his refills had been somewhere “in transit” for a week. I also heard from a veteran, who after two heart attacks, must takes ten pills each day. Like 80% of outpatient veterans, he receives these vital medications by mail from the Department of Veterans Affairs and now he is worried they won’t arrive on time.


While these delays are hurting Minnesotans, it is clear that they are not the fault of hard-working postal employees who have successfully delivered the mail on time for decades. Recent delays are a result of the chaotic changes made by top USPS officials in Washington, and we need answers about why these sudden changes were made at a time when Americans are relying on the post office more than ever.

Pressing for answers

In August, to get a better understanding of the recent operational changes, I toured a large mail-processing center in Eagan and discussed with local USPS officials how the facility has been impacted. At the time, they had already lost two mail-sorting machines that could each sort 500,000 pieces of mail per day. That day, they told me they were scheduled to lose up to eight more. So, in just this one Minnesota facility, the Postmaster General’s decision to remove these machines is slowing down the delivery of millions of pieces of mail.

In response to the Minnesotans’ concerns, I asked the USPS inspector general to investigate the impact that the postmaster general’s changes have had on timely mail delivery. I also asked the inspector general to investigate any potential conflicts of interest that Postmaster General DeJoy might have, since he is heavily invested in delivery services that compete with USPS. I’m pleased that only a few days after I pushed for the inquiry, the Inspector General granted my request and is now doing a full investigation.

While Postmaster General DeJoy has since suspended some of his disruptive changes until after the November election — due in large part to the pressure I and many others applied — he still has refused to roll them back and restore Minnesota’s mail processing capacity. Nationally, a new report by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) found Postmaster General DeJoy’s changes delayed nearly 350 million pieces, or 7%, of the country’s First-Class Mail while they were in effect,

I’m now pressing the USPS Board of Governors , which oversees Postmaster General DeJoy and all postal operations, to reverse the changes he put in place.

Fortunately, a federal judge temporarily blocked Postmaster General DeJoy from implementing these changes after finding substantial evidence that they slowed efficient mail delivery. Minnesota was one of several states objecting to those changes in court, and now USPS will have to restore some operations back to normal.

U.S. servicemembers also hit hard

I’m also pushing to ensure that American servicemembers — especially those serving overseas — aren’t hurt by the USPS changes. These servicemembers and their families are uniquely impacted because the mail is often the only reliable connection they have to loved ones. Perhaps most important, absentee ballots are the only way that most servicemembers can cast their ballots. Making absentee voting more difficult disenfranchises the very Americans who defend our nation. That is unacceptable.

For many months, our nation has been rocked by an unprecedented pandemic that has created a public health and economic crisis. During this time, we need a postal service we can rely upon to deliver products for businesses, get prescription drugs to people who need them, and this year, to make sure every citizen who votes by mail has their ballot counted. During this pandemic and beyond, I will continue to push to ensure the USPS continues its long history of reliably delivering mail to every community in Minnesota and across the country.

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