SCHENECTADY — Around 40 people gathered outside the downtown Schenectady post office for two hours on Saturday to show their support for the U.S. Postal Service, which is at the center of a political storm over budget cuts as the nation prepares for an unprecedented level of mail-in voting this fall.
Lynell Englemyer, a spokesman for protest organizers Progressive Schenectady, said the group is especially concerned about the timing of cuts that have been made by U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a recent appointee of President Donald Trump.
“I think there are other issues involved like medications that come through the mail, but I also think that it’s (wrong) at this time, given the number of people who will be using it to vote by mail, including the president,” she said.
The peaceful demonstration outside the Schenectady post office — and another outside the Johnstown post office in Fulton County — were the latest in a series of events that have included appearances and sign-waving protests at area post offices including those in Scotia, Niskayuna, Albany and Troy.
As protesters held signs with messages like “Support the USPS” and “Stop Trump’s attack on the Post Office,” the House of Representatives was in an unusual Saturday session in Washington, D.C., with members called back from their August recess to vote on a Democrat-authored bill that would require restoration of the cuts that have been made since January. It would also authorize an additional $25 billion in funding for the Postal Service.
The bill passed the House mostly along party lines Saturday evening, with just 26 Republicans voting in support of the bill, and 149 voting against it. U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, the only Republican in the Capital Region congressional delegation, voted in favor of the bill.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, on Saturday forcefully denounced the cuts, and said he will support the Democrats’ bill.
“During the last several weeks there’s been an all-out assault, a political attack against the post office,” Tonko said in a Zoom call ahead of the vote. “It’s very dangerous in this time of a pandemic.”
He believes the cuts are being made to undermine the upcoming election, in which polling shows Trump trailing Democratic candidate Joe Biden. An unprecedented level of mail-in voting is expected because of concerns about COVID-19, and Trump has repeatedly said he believes mail-in ballots are more likely to lead to fraud than in-person voting.
“It’s a corruption effort that I think disturbs a lot of people,” Tonko said. “We’re nearly 70 days away from Election Day, with many people asked to stay home due to this pandemic, and they want to be able to vote from home.”
DeJoy testified before a U.S. Senate committee on Friday, saying that he believes the Postal Service has the ability to handle the anticipated volume of election mail, even though postal cuts made since January — including removal of sorting machines and neighborhood collection boxes — will not be reversed. DeJoy will appear before a House committee for further testimony on Monday.
While the Democratic bill isn’t expected to come to a floor vote in the Republican-controlled Senate, if it were approved there, Trump has threatened to veto it.
“The House, the Senate and the President all need to do the responsible thing,” Tonko, who represents the 20th Congressional District, said. “The responsible thing to do is make sure the U.S. Postal Service is up and running to its full potential.”
19th Congressional District U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, announced on Friday he was conducting an online survey so constituents can tell him about any post office delays they are experiencing.
“The legislation seeks to stabilize the U.S.Postal Service at a time when many Americans are relying on home deliveries and reliable mail service more than ever, and prevent any targeted structural changes that would weaken the [postal service] and discourage Americans from voting by mail in the fall,” Delgado said.
During the House floor debate on Saturday, many Republicans argued that Democrats were exaggerating the problems with the Postal Service and claiming a conspiracy where there was none behind routine budget-saving cuts, and delays could be due to civil unrest in American cities.
At the Schenectady protest, some attendees said they’ve seen the quality of the postal system deteriorate recently.
“My wife and I run a business that ships books every day,” said Gordon Neufeld of Schenectady. “We are noticing significant delays. You have to submit a form for lost mail. That used to happen maybe twice a year. Now, it’s six or seven times a month.”
“I just think that essential services matter,” said Robert Millman of Scotia, a documentary filmmaker who also attended a rally Thursday at the Scotia post office. “It really is a question of whether we will have essential services in a democracy or not.”