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For two days now in front of two different congressional committees, Postmaster General Lewis Dejoy has said the same thing. The Postal Service is ready.

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The Postal Service is fully capable and committed to delivering the nation's ballots securely and on time.

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Dejoy reiterated a promise to suspend cost cutting measures like eliminating overtime or removing sorting machines until after the election. But today, Democrats wanted to know what about the changes that have already been made?

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How can one person screw this up in just a few weeks?

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That's Democratic Congressman Stephen Lynch from Massachusetts. American public, remember where you put the machine?

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Very. I'm very proud to lead the organization. The rest of your accusations are actually.

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Will you put the machine? No, I will not. You will not. Will not. You will not. Well, there you go. There I go.

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What those machines make sure the way consider this how and why the Postal Service got so strapped for cash and what it means for the parts of the country that are already suffering through mail delays. From NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish. And it's Monday, August 24th.

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Over the weekend, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a 25 billion dollar funding bill for the Postal Service. It's not going anywhere, even if the Republican controlled Senate approved the bill, which they won't.

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The president has threatened to veto it. So really all Democrats can do is keep public pressure on the postmaster general.

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Good morning, Chairwoman Maloney, ranking member Comar and members of the committee.

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That's what today's House Oversight Committee hearing was about. Committee chair and Democrat Carolyn Maloney waving a copy of this report around.

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This document clearly shows major degradations across the board beginning in July, a report that Dejoy not only has seen before, but ordered himself.

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It shows systemic delays at the Postal Service. And we're talking about an eight percent drop in first class mail being delivered on time.

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His explanation, we are very concerned with the deterioration in service and are working very diligently. In fact, we're seeing a big recovery this week, Dejoy said.

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Saidiya, the mail is slower, but he said that's being worked on and he denied ordering any sorting machines removed.

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Who directed it? I didn't have not done the best. It came probably through our operation. It's been a long term and you don't know who directed it.

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You don't know who implemented it. That's Congressman Rokita from California.

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Well, this there's hundreds of them around the country in different places. It was an initiative within the organization that received.

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So your postal service, internal memos reportedly sent by Dejoy referred to slowdown's in the mail as an unintended consequence of recent policy changes. One of those consequences is that some Americans are not receiving prescription drugs on time. Here's NPR's Kirk Siegler. About 15 years ago, Todd Troyer retired as an ironworker in Milwaukee and moved to rural Wisconsin. He is a Vietnam vet. He's also diabetic with a heart condition and gets his prescriptions and insulin through the mail.

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And then when it runs down, I call and I order more. So I got it here to take my pills and everything else. And that's the only thing I'm worried about is is it going to make it here or is and I don't know.

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The only other option for Troyer, who's 69, is an hour drive one way to the VA in Madison.

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What's the deal with screwing over the mail? I mean, mail's been running since we had horse riders bring in it, for God's sakes.

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A lot of people in rural America are angry and organizing to save the Postal Service.

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The federal agency overseen by the president is mandated to deliver to all of America, especially remote zip codes where private carriers won't go because it's not profitable.

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There's now even a protest song by the popular North Carolina bluegrass artist Joe Troupe.

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Our government is doing a. So to not deliver the mail should be against the law, Trump goes on singing in a song called A Plea to fully fund the U.S. Postal Service.

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And a lot of small town America is worried about a future without the post office.

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Rich Judge is part of the new left leaning group Rural America 2020. They're fighting post office cuts in Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota and Sauk County, Wisconsin, where he lives.

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If our mail service isn't right, what other connections are we going to lose? A judge says dairy farmers in his area and small business owners like him are already hustling. And still, many are seeing their earnings and savings drop.

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You're telling people who already have to work harder than they did 20, 25 years ago that, hey, by the way, we're going to impede your progress even more by hamstringing the Postal Service and taking away something we've had in this country for how many years?

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About 245 years, actually, back to when Benjamin Franklin became the first postmaster general. Rich judge sees the fight over the post office, not unlike what is going on with the lack of high speed Internet here in rural America stands to keep falling further behind.

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That was NPR's Kirk Siegler. So, yeah, the Postal Service has been around for a long time and so have its financial problems.

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The biggest post office of all, New York City is entirely closed down. 97 percent of its employees are out.

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In 1970, post office workers nationwide went on strike. They demanded a raise from the only people that had the power to give them one, the United States Congress.

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Until that point, the post office was a department of the federal government.

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That's David Trimble from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, which recently put out a report about how to make the Postal Service sustainable.

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Trimble says up until 1970, about a quarter of the post office budget was paid for by Congress. But as part of the deal that year, government funding for the Postal Service was phased out. And that's when the post office began to be thought of as more of a business like entity. You can hear that in the postmaster generals testimony, just how deep that thinking goes. Not the C o. I'm the CEO of the of the organization, but I receive.

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And yet, even after 1970, the Postal Service still needed permission to raise rates or open and close post offices.

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So you want them to operate in business, but you're telling them what services they have to provide and you're telling them how much they can charge. So they're sort of between a rock and a hard place for a lot of their operational decisions.

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Alexi Horowitz, Godse and Keith Romer from NPR's Planet Money team have this look at why that arrangement isn't any easier today.

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Alexi speaks first for a while. This new business version of the post office actually works. People like mailing things and they're willing to pay for it. Year after year. Mail volumes just keep increasing and the Postal Service is able to increase their rates to cover new costs, which means revenue keeps going up.

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But then in the early 2000s email, it's cheaper, it's faster.

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You don't have to lick anything.

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First class mail delivery in the United States peaks in 2001 at 103 billion letters, and it just goes downhill from there, which is bad news for the Postal Service.

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So in 2006, Congress passed a new round of postal reforms. And just like the last time in 1970, it was sort of a mixed bag for the post office.

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They did get to set their own rates for packages, but rate increases for first class mail now couldn't increase faster than inflation.

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And there was one very big new requirement that Republicans slipped into the bill at the last minute, a requirement that the postal service prepay the costs for its workers retirement health benefits.

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So when the final bill came out, there were many of us who were very surprised and said, what is this payment we have to make?

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That's Ruth Goldway, who at the time was a commissioner at the Postal Regulatory Commission.

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Whatever current and former postal workers were going to get in health care benefits after they retired, the postal service had to pay for that now.

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No other government agency and almost no other business puts money away for future health care. Retiree benefits claims.

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Starting in 2007, the Postal Service had 10 years until 2017 to put together this giant pool of money to cover those costs for what would be literally millions of current and former workers.

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All of a sudden, because of this last minute addition to the new law, the Postal Service is committed to putting aside five billion dollars every year for the next decade, which for an organization that was already struggling to turn a profit, is just devastating.

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For a few years, the post office does pay into this fund. Then in 2011, they just stop. They can't afford to anymore. And now they owe a lot of money and not just for the weird prefunding, the retirement health care benefits thing. On top of that, they also tens of billions of dollars for pensions and for workers compensation in twenty nineteen.

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That liability totaled one hundred and sixty one billion dollars.

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That's David Trimble again from the Government Accountability Office. The scale of this is massive. The challenge facing them is massive.

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Financially, it's worth pointing out that if the Postal Service was in fact a company, there would be something it could do, something that airlines and car manufacturers, these companies with giant obligations to pension funds and health care benefits, that they can't afford something that they do all the time, declare bankruptcy, reorganize its finances, renegotiate with its workers. But in this sense, at least, the Postal Service is not a company.

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Bankruptcy laws would not be available for the post office to exercise. And really, it's Congress. It's up to Congress to address the core policy questions, which is what is the mission? What are the what are the. Our missions, we want the postal service to provide and given those missions, how are we going to pay for it?

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Is the post office a service the government provides? Is it a business? Those are political questions.

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And ultimately, we're going to need political answers. Alexi Horowitz, Ghazi and Keith Romer with NPR's Planet Money.

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That was an excerpt from their recent episode about the Postal Service and its finances. We've got a link to the full thing in our episode notes additional reporting in this episode from our colleagues at All Things Considered. For more news, download the NPR one app or listen to your local public radio station. Remember, supporting that station makes this podcast possible. I'm Audie Cornish. Back with more tomorrow.

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