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In late June, NAPS Director of Legislative & Political Affairs Bob Levi referred to the 21 state attorneys general (AGs) who filed objections before the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) regarding the Postal Service’s latest proposed delivery standards. Implementing the revised standards would institutionalize slower mail delivery.
The AGs argued the new standards would violate the public’s trust in the agency and defy its legal obligations. The revised standards, they said, also would impair the ability of cities and states to promptly deliver vital benefits and services to their citizens.
For his July 2 edition of NAPS Chat, Levi talked to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
Levi acknowledged he knew Shapiro when he worked on Capitol Hill for former Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), as well as former Reps. Peter Deutsch (D-FL) and Joe Hoeffel (D-PA). Levi welcomed Shapiro to the chat. “Let’s dive in!” he proclaimed.
“As Pennsylvania attorney general, you have emerged as one of, if not the leading, state-elected advocates on behalf of protecting the integrity of prompt and effective mail delivery. Less than a year ago, you sued Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in federal court over his implementation of the 2020 summertime operations changes; you won. What inspired you and the people of Pennsylvania to take the lead in this crusade?”
Shapiro responded that Pennsylvanians rely on the mail to deliver their prescriptions and necessities. They also rely on the Postal Service to successfully deliver mail in elections to make sure their voices are heard in the country’s democracy.
“So, when we saw the cuts and service changes proposed by DeJoy last year,” he explained, “we not only knew they were reckless, but against the very purpose of the Postal Service. But, importantly, we also knew they were illegal. So we jumped to action, organized a coalition of attorneys general and, as you pointed out, we won to protect the Postal Service.”
Levi pointed out that, earlier in the week, Shapiro conducted a press conference in Erie, PA, where he was joined by representatives from the Pennsylvania Council on Aging and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union. At the event, Shapiro underscored the Postal Service as being a vital part of the nation’s essential infrastructure. “You also stated the Postal Service is under attack from within,” Levi said. “Would you expand on that perspective?”
“It was good to be in Erie,” Shapiro replied, “which is a critically important hub in our Postal Service system. And it’s a hub where employees are frustrated by leadership in Washington, DC, taking steps that would slow down the mail—making it harder to get checks on time, prescriptions on time. So, for me, as we get ready to take legal action again to protect the Postal Service—and I’m confident we’ll be victorious again—it was important to hear from people on the front line to better understand from their perspective the actual impact these decisions are having.”
Shapiro said his job as the chief law enforcement officer and chief legal officer in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is to oftentimes go to court to protect people. It’s always helpful to have an honest assessment from the people on the ground as to what’s happening. The people in Erie are very concerned and very troubled, he stressed.
“Erie is a terrific town that’s surrounded by a lot of rural communities,” he said. “Those rural communities depend on the mail more so than some of our densely populated urban and suburban communities. It’s really a lifeline for people in that region. I wanted to hear from them directly in order to protect the Postal Service.”
Levi referred to formal presidential adviser James Carville’s 1992 characterization of rural/urban/suburban Pennsylvania as “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between.” Currently, Levi said, under the revised standard for sending a letter from the Benjamin Franklin Museum in Philadelphia to, for example, Shapiro’s daughter at the University of Pittsburgh, it would take three days—one additional day. “Earlier this week in Erie,” he told Shapiro, “you stressed how the Postal Service must bind the nation and your state together. How should we accomplish that feat for the country and Pennsylvania?”
Shapiro offered that Pennsylvania is bound together by so much. “It’s an offensive way to describe our state,” he asserted. “We are a commonwealth that has large swaths of rural, urban and suburban populations.
“The need to have a strong, robust Postal Service is important in all three of those areas. And the impact the changes the USPS is proposing would have on Pennsylvania, especially in our rural communities, would affect the entire country. I think we are a microcosm for that.”
Shapiro pointed out USPS workers delivered mail to 46 million rural addresses in 2020. For a lot of people in these areas, the USPS is their only option to get the necessities they need.
“So,” he continued, “while I don’t like slicing and dicing Pennsylvania the way some of the political pundits would, it is very clear that rural communities need the USPS to be strong. I’m working hard to protect it.”
In late June, Levi said, Shapiro again took the lead by filing objections with the PRC on behalf of 21 states relating to the Postal Service’s new delivery standards. The filing was in response to the agency’s request to the PRC for an advisory opinion on the new standards.
“I know you understand the PRC’s opinion is advisory,” Levi affirmed. “The Postal Service can implement the changes regardless of what the PRC decides. The Postal Service, in the past week and a half, also proposed changes to the standards for parcels. If these changes are implemented, not-withstanding the objections of the 21 states and whatever the PRC opines, what’s your next move?”
Shapiro said Postal Service leadership can’t make changes willy-nilly. It has to submit changes to the PRC for its review and approval. “Experts sit on the commission,” he stressed. “One of the reasons we won our lawsuit last year around election time when ballots were being threatened not to be delivered on time was that the USPS made those changes without going to the PRC.”
For the most recent proposed changes, the Postal Service did go to the PRC. “If the PRC concludes that, as we have—myself and the other AGs who joined me—that the Postal Service should not go forward with its proposed service cuts, then I would hope USPS leadership would take that seriously and rethink its plan. After all, PRC commissioners are the experts who are able to track it and understand how the mail flows and where it flows.”
If the evidence goes against the proposed changes, which the PRC then opposes, but the Postal Service goes forward anyway, Shapiro said he would evaluate all the legal options at the time. “I have many legal options,” he contended. “And my fellow AGs have legal options, as well. We will not hesitate to take further legal action to defend the Postal Service to ensure mail delivery is done on time.
“Some people would say the difference between two days and four days is no big deal. But if you’re a veteran and waiting to get your prescription drugs, that’s a problem! And 80% of our veterans who get their drugs through the VA get those drugs delivered through the USPS.
“If you’re a small business owner, like the one I talked to in Erie a couple days ago, and you rely on the Postal Service to get checks you need to run your small business and pay your employees, a couple days is a big deal when cash flow is tight, particularly coming out of the pandemic.
“So, it’s a big deal. We’re hoping the PRC agrees with us and does not recommend the changes go forward. If the PRC does not recommend the changes, but the agency continues on, then we’ll act accordingly.”
Levi referred to Shapiro’s federal court victory in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Louis DeJoy. The reason for the win was that the Postal Service did not seek an advisory opinion before implementing service changes. The court also referenced the section in law that requires the agency to prioritize prompt and economical delivery.
“A USPS-requested amendment to this section currently appears in pending postal legislation, H.R. 3067, and adds to current criteria—‘prompt and economical’—‘reliable and consistent,’ thereby diminishing the weight of ‘speedy’ as a criteria for delivering the mail. How would you view this proposed change?”
Shapiro said the proposed change was concerning, possibly illegal, which is why the attorneys general continue to fight this battle, as well as continuing to push the PRC. “That’s why I hope the experts there will recognize that speed does matter—accuracy matters,” he stressed. “And the experts at the PRC are going to rely on facts and data—not ideology—and will protect the Postal Service.”
The Postal Service seems to be doubling down on its belief that customers are more concerned about reliable mail service, Levi asserted. For example, knowing you’ll get your mail in five days is more important than the speed of service. “Do you think that’s a correct evaluation of Pennsylvania residents’ needs?” he asked.
“No, I don’t,” Shapiro proclaimed. “I think accuracy, reliability and speed all matter. I don’t think the changes being put in place are the changes we need to fix the Postal Service. I was in Erie talking to some workers on the front lines. They’re talking to me about the ridiculous systems not being fixed where I try and mail a letter to a neighbor in Erie and that letter has to travel to Pittsburgh—sometimes Philly—just to make its way back to Erie to be delivered.
“That’s not the fault of the mail handler or the letter carrier; that’s the fault of the bureaucrats in Washington who don’t have a system in place that works effectively. So, before you say to the consumers, ‘Hey, we’re going to make your mail take longer,’ how about fixing things internally and making sure you don’t have these insane systems that ultimately don’t make any sense?”
Levi referred to Shapiro’s experience as a congressional staffer. “The Postal Service is a federal function—a constitutional federal function—not state,” he contended. “Did your congressional staff work on postal issues impact your views on the contemporary Postal Service?”
“I don’t know my experience impacted it directly,” Shapiro said, “other than maybe as a Pennsylvanian and follower of Ben Franklin. It shaped my belief that the Postal Service is not some random business, but, rather, a public service envisioned by Franklin as a way to tie us all together.
“I view the Postal Service as essential as our roads and bridges, broadband and telephone. And it’s under attack. So, I suppose some of the experience I had at the federal level is helpful and important, but, probably, my experience as a Pennsylvanian and follower of Ben Franklin is more informative of that.”
Levi added that, as a state legislator, Shapiro took part in a seminar commemorating Franklin’s 305th birthday. “What lessons about the Postal Service should we learn from Dr. Franklin? How do you think he would respond to its current state?”
“Your guess is as good as mine as to what Franklin would think about things today,” Shapiro replied. “But my sense is he would be disappointed. He viewed the agency as a public trust, a public service. He viewed it as critical to linking the people of Pennsylvania with the people of this country.”
Shapiro said he thought Franklin would find it troubling that the agency is suffering because USPS leadership is viewing the agency through the prism of a business as opposed to a public service. “At the same time,” Shapiro offered, “I think Franklin would find it inspiring that, all these years later, the postal system still links us in many important ways.
“I cited this before—the VA delivering prescription drugs through the USPS to our heroes who served in the military, not some private contractor. Things like that are important and part of Franklin’s legacy. But I’d like to think if Franklin were here today, he’d figure out a way to fix it while still preserving the public service it is.”
Levi asked how Pennsylvania uses the Postal Service to provide services to its citizens.
Shapiro said the commonwealth relies on the Postal Service to deliver checks and important documents. “Yesterday, I got my driver’s license renewed,” he said. “The form was delivered by the good old USPS. Our commonwealth’s government relies on it quite extensively.”
Levi talked about Pennsylvania’s pivotal role in the 2020 presidential election. Additionally, a number of congressional seats were in play in Pennsylvania. “How do you think the Postal Service performed in the 2020 general election?”
“Despite efforts by USPS leadership to mess it up,” Shapiro asserted, “I thought postal workers did an incredible job getting ballots delivered on time. The postal workers I talked to in Erie took great pride in getting those ballots delivered to county election offices on time. And they were an important reason why, despite the nonsense and dangerous rhetoric you’re hearing from the previous administration, we know factually this was a safe, secure and legitimate election. And, in large measure, we have our postal workers to thank for that.”
Levi asked whether, as attorney general, Shapiro was coordinating his efforts with Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation. “Ultimately, they are going to have to vote on legislation impacting the Postal Service if it were to change,” he added.
Shapiro said he’s spoken to several members of Congress. Rep. Susan Wild has been particularly engaged on the issue. Sen. Bob Casey and he have spoken about it. Casey also was in Erie last week where they talked. “Congress has a lot of work to do to fix it,” he stressed. “Obviously, using my authority under the 10th Amendment and my authority on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania, I was able to go to court in order stop the Postal Service from doing some of the reckless things it was doing. But, ultimately, the reforms—the legislative fix—will have to come from Congress.”
Levi asked Shapiro if he thinks he has a role to play in being a stakeholder and advocate for the residents of Pennsylvania.
“I have multiple roles to play” Shapiro affirmed. “One is to make sure the Postal Service follows the law; that’s why we sued and won. Also, to be a voice on behalf of the Postal Service, on behalf of the legacy of Ben Franklin, on behalf of the good people of Pennsylvania, on behalf of those veterans who rely on the mail so much and on behalf of small business owners. That’s the work we need to do; we’re going to continue to do it. I’m proud to play that role.”
Going forward in 2021, Levi asked Shapiro how he thinks the attorneys general around the country are going to position themselves should the Postal Service continue its effort to effect or change mail service.
“I only can speak for myself,” Shapiro professed. “I have an eye on what’s happening in the Postal Service. If leadership takes action that is illegal, as it is attempting to do again, we will go to court and defend the Postal Service. I’ve had a lot of company from my fellow AGs in that effort; I expect it to continue.”