US Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has suspended all mail service changes until after the November election, bowing to an outcry by Democrats that the moves appeared to be an attempt to boost President Donald Trump’s re-election chances.
The reversal on Tuesday follows complaints that the cuts could slow the handling of mail-in ballots, which could account for as many as half of all votes cast in November’s election as the coronavirus pandemic raises fears of crowds.
Critics have accused the Republican president, trailing Democratic challenger Joe Biden in opinion polls, of trying to hobble the Postal Service to suppress mail-in voting.
Mr Trump has repeatedly and without evidence claimed an increase in mail-in ballots would lead to a surge in fraud, even though Americans have long voted by mail.
Planned changes to the mail service that threatened to slow mail delivery – and in some cases, already have – include reductions in overtime, restrictions on extra mail transportation trips, and new mail sorting and delivery policies, enacted in an attempt to cut costs.
“I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded,” Mr DeJoy said on Wednesday (Australian time), adding the changes were to “avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail”.
US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Mr DeJoy’s announcement inadequate and said she would push ahead with legislation later this week to aid the Postal Service.
“This pause only halts a limited number of the postmaster’s changes, does not reverse damage already done, and alone is not enough to ensure voters will not be disenfranchised by the President” in the November 3 election, Ms Pelosi said.
Mr DeJoy, a major political donor and ally of Mr Trump, assumed the job in June. His recent operational changes had brought widespread criticism.
Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, praised “the postmaster’s reversal of these policies” but added the Postal Service was still “in immediate need of $US25 billion ($A36 billion) in COVID-related financial relief”.
The reversal followed a lengthy call by the postal board of governors on Monday night, two people briefed on the matter said. They said the board told Mr DeJoy to only focus on election integrity between now and election day, not operational changes.
Mr DeJoy is scheduled to testify on Friday before a Republican-led Senate committee, and before a Democratic-led House of Representatives Committee on Monday.