A handful of Oregon’s elected officials came together Friday morning in support of the United States Postal Service and its workers in light of recent news of downsizing its services.
U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden stood alongside U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio in front of the Eugene Post Office on Willamette Street to speak out against cuts to the service and the implications it’s already starting to have on people’s health and lives.
They were joined by a group of people who voiced their own sense of urgency about the issue, including Oregon Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle, Oregon Sen. James Manning, a leader of the American Postal Workers Union, Eugene Springfield NAACP President Eric Richardson, and a mother who is struggling to get necessary medications in the mail for her child.
“This is so essential. We’ve had 4,000 contacts to my office in the last few days about the attacks on the Postal Service,” DeFazio said. “That’s pretty big.”
Article One, Section Eight, of the U.S. Constitution includes the Postal Clause: “Congress shall have power to establish … post offices and post roads.” Each person who spoke at Friday’s conference asserted that as it’s written into the Constitution, the postal service is just that: a service. Therefore, they argued it should not be privatized or turned entirely into a business.
DeFazio gave a particularly impassioned address to the crowd, arguing that the USPS financial losses Postmaster Louis DeJoy referenced as justification for service changes can be attributed to a 2006 law that required USPS to prefund 75 years’ worth of retiree health benefits in the span of 10 years.
“Absent that mandate, which was snuck into a bill during a lame duck session in Congress on Christmas Eve by the Bush administration, the Postal Service made money or broke even in the last five years before COVID,” DeFazio said. “It’s a bunch of BS that they’re inefficient and losing money, so his whole premise is wrong.”
“In America now, one out of five prescriptions is delivered exclusively by mail,” Wyden said, speaking from his experience on the Senate Finance Committee, which deals with many issues related to health care. “And physicians tell us that if patients don’t get their medicine in a timely way, they’re gonna suffer.”
DeFazio also stated that last year alone, the USPS delivered on time 125 million prescriptions for veterans. Merkley noted that rural communities in Oregon depend on mail delivery for small businesses, and that 1.4 million Oregonians receive medication through the mail.
Local Mother Isis Barone is one of those Oregonians. She spoke at the conference with her three children at her side.
“One of my children has a medical condition that requires all of her meds to come through the mail,” Barone said. “Not only over the last few months have we seen a change and a jump in that delay, but we have been waiting almost three weeks for a medication that’s supposed to come every month.”
Their family has been running into complications due to the delays, Barone said, as the insurance company doesn’t want to cover the cost of the medication because it is not sent out by the time it’s supposed to be. This is now the family’s second month of dealing with this issue.
Speakers also included a pediatric physician who said she worries for the newborns who rely on the mail for prescriptions and ways to get necessary nutrients that can’t be found in typical formula on the shelf and for their families who are already sharing issues with her about getting medications for themselves.
Oregon Sen. James Manning — who represents the areas of north and west Eugene, Santa Clara and Junction City — talked about his 24 years of Army service and serving as a postmaster during that time.
“How does this impact the morale of men and women overseas, fighting in uniform, not able to get their mail? This is really serious,” Manning said. “I can’t imagine what it would look like for someone to wake up in the morning with the last pill of medication they have waiting because the mail is stuck in a corner somewhere … we’re talking life or death.”
Because of these issues, and the fact that many voters will rely on absentee or mail-in ballots to participate in the November 2020 election due to COVID-19, Oregon is one of several states suing to block service changes to the U.S. Postal Service.
Federal law requires USPS go through certain steps before making changes to affect service nationwide, such as a review by the Postal Regulatory Commission and a public comment period, according to a report from the Associated Press. The states’ attorneys general say DeJoy did not follow these procedures.
The lawsuit was originally filed by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro on Tuesday. Oregon signed on, as well as Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. There is a similar suit from attorneys general in California, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
In light of concerns about the election, Oregon Secretary of State Beverly Clarno reaffirmed in a newsletter this week that Oregon will continue to do vote by mail, as it has for over two decades, and work with USPS in the election.
“We will, of course, continue to work with them and monitor any potential impact to both the mailing out of ballots to voters and the return of ballots,” Secretary Clarno stated. “The USPS has told us that Oregon should have ‘sufficient time for voters to receive, complete, and return their ballots by the state’s Election Day return deadline.'”