Tester demands answers from postmaster general on reports of mailbox removals

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterPence seeks to boost Daines in critical Montana Senate race This World Suicide Prevention Day, let's recommit to protecting the lives of our veterans Filibuster fight looms if Democrats retake Senate MORE (D-Mont.) this week sent a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoyLouis DeJoyThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - White House moves closer to Pelosi on virus relief bill Judge issues nationwide injunction against Postal Service changes Postal service changes delayed 7 percent of nation's first-class mail: Democratic report MORE demanding answers about the removal of more than a dozen blue post office drop boxes across the state, as Democrats fear the Trump administration is seeking to sabotage the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) ahead of an expected surge in mail voting this November.

In his letter, Tester pointed to media reports and warnings from the Montana Postal Workers Union about the removal and planned removal of drop boxes.

“If true, this seems to be occurring without any transparency or communication with impacted Montanans,” Tester wrote.

ADVERTISEMENT

“The United States Postal Service plays a critical role in America, and its services are needed now more than ever, particularly in our rural communities where local access to grocery stores, pharmacies, and other essential services are often limited to nonexistent. These reported actions would cause harm to those who rely on the USPS for the delivery of medicine and distribution of benefits.”

Tester said his office has received reports of drop boxes being removed from Bozeman and Lewistown and plans for removals in Billings. He asked DeJoy to respond to these reports by Aug. 18.

In a statement to The Hill, USPS spokesperson Kimberly Frum said the Postal Service has for decades installed and removed its “iconic blue” collection mailboxes based on the volume of mail received to each.

She said that low-volume mailboxes are a financial drag on the Postal Service, which lost more than $2 billion in the second quarter.

“It is a fluid process and figures can vary from day-to-day,” Frum said. “Historically, mail boxes have been removed for lack of use and installed in growth areas.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“When a collection box consistently receives very small amounts of mail for months on end, it costs the Postal Service money in fuel and workhours for letter carriers to drive to the mailbox and collect the mail. Removing the box is simply good business sense in that respect. It is important to note that anyone with a residential or business mailbox can use it as a vehicle to send outgoing mail.”

Frum said there are about 142,000 blue steel collection boxes on the streets across the country and that the decision to remove is made on a “case by case basis.”

She said some low-volume boxes are kept on the streets if they are the only means for sending mail in some neighborhoods, business centers or senior citizen complexes.

“In the past few years, greater emphasis has been placed on stabilizing the number of collection boxes in use and relocating low-use boxes to high traffic areas such as shopping centers, business parks, grocery stores, etc. for increased customer convenience,” Frum said. “Additionally, collection times vary depending on location and may be changed based on transportation schedules. In the event a collection box schedule changes, advanced notice would be placed on the box to inform customers.”

The USPS has requested $25 billion in additional funding from Congress to address long-running revenue shortfalls. In addition, Democrats are seeking $3.6 billion in funding for states to handle the expected crush of mail ballots in November.

ADVERTISEMENT

Trump has said he opposes “bailouts” for the states and suggested on Thursday that he opposes additional USPS funding because it would lead to universal mail-in voting in the fall. However, Trump said later he would not veto a potential coronavirus relief package over USPS funding.

The president has made unsubstantiated claims about mail voting fraud and worried that expanded access to mail voting would benefit Democrats in November.

Democrats have accused DeJoy, a top GOP donor before he became postmaster general, of implementing new policies designed to slow down mail delivery and sow chaos and delays around the election. 

DeJoy said last week he is not “not slowing down election mail or any other mail" and that the USPS has “ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on time."

USPS general counsel Thomas Marshall said in a letter to the House Oversight and Reform Committee that the Postal Service is in “dire financial condition.” He alluded to imminent cutbacks, saying the agency would be “taking steps to enhance operational efficiency and reduce costs.”