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What the new USPS bill means for the next stimulus package

Would a bill to help fund the struggling US Postal Service strengthen or weaken the chances of another coronavirus relief act? Here's what we know today.

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USPS collection boxes near Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Erin Scott/Getty Images
This story is part of Elections 2020, CNET's coverage of the voting in November and its aftermath.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have diverted attention from negotiations over the coronavirus relief package to address a crisis within the US Postal Service that spans from funding to changes that some say could affect up to 80 million people's ability to vote by mail during the November presidential election. Mail-in and absentee voting are seen as crucial to help keep polling places from become hotspots for spreading the coronavirus. The question remains: Will the sudden focus on the USPS affect the stimulus package? 

Here's what we know so far. For a more in-depth look, scroll to the end for a summary of the controversy and read our deep dive into what's been going on with USPS

A tale of two USPS bills

On Saturday, the US House of Representatives passed legislation that bans recent changes to the US Postal Service and also provides $25 billion in additional funding for the USPS. Though the House came back from its August recess early for the vote, it didn't include any other provisions from the coronavirus relief package. We still don't know when one will come, or when you might get your second stimulus check.

The $25 billion in funding for the USPS was originally included in a larger coronavirus stimulus package, but negotiations between House Democrats and Republicans broke down before Congress adjourned on Aug. 7. In a Saturday press conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she wasn't in favor of splitting up the coronavirus relief package, but that the USPS situation was "an emergency" and that the bill passed includes additional policy that the House hasn't issued in its previous proposal over 100 days ago.

The Republican-led Senate "will not pass stand-alone legislation for the Postal Service," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Saturday on Twitter

Senate Republicans plan to introduce a "skinny" coronavirus stimulus package called the Delivering Immediate Relief to America's Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act (PDF) that includes $10 billion allocated for the USPS, along with $300 in weekly unemployment benefits -- similar to an executive action signed by President Donald Trump. The draft of this proposed package does not include funding for a second round of stimulus checks, however. But the bill could restart negotiations on other, smaller stimulus relief bills that could include a slice of other programs.

Would a USPS law help or hurt the stimulus bill?

At this point, we don't know. Lawmakers on both sides agree on the need for a second stimulus check and other rescue programs. A couple of different scenarios could play out from here:

  • The Republican bill with USPS funding and some provisions could pass, and lawmakers could agree on another stimulus package down the line.
  • A series of standalone bills, including a USPS bill, could pass over the course of the coming weeks and months.
  • A USPS bill could pass with some provisions, without lawmakers picking up the topic of a larger stimulus bill.
  • An emergency bill could pass now, with negotiations for a larger stimulus package or standalone bills resuming after the US presidential election.
  • No bill could pass and the negotiations could remain in stalemate.
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Mail-in, or absentee, ballots are seen as a safe way for millions of Americans to vote during the coronavirus pandemic. That requires a fully functional USPS that can handle the increased load.

Jason Redmond/Getty Images

What exactly does the House's USPS bill include? 

The Democratic USPS bill (PDF) that passed Saturday in the House says that from the time it's enacted until either Jan. 1, 2021, or the last day of the COVID-19 pandemic -- whichever is later -- the USPS may not implement or approve any change to its operations or level of service, other than those that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. 

In terms of funding, the bill calls for an additional payment of $25 billion to the USPS. 

Changes that would be prohibited if this bill becomes law include: 

  • Any change in the nature of postal services that will generally affect service on a nationwide basis.
  • Any revision of service standards.
  • Any closure or consolidation of any post office, or reduction of facility hours.
  • Any prohibition on overtime pay to USPS officers or employees.
  • Any change that would prevent the USPS from meeting its service standards, or cause a decline in performance. 
  • Any change that would delay mail or increase the volume of undelivered mail. 
  • Treating election mail as anything other than first-class mail, even if this requires the service to pay employees overtime.
  • Removing, decommissioning or otherwise stopping mail sorting machines for anything but routine maintenance.
  • Removing any mail collection box available to the public. 
  • Enacting any rule, policy or standard that causes a delay in mail delivery to or from a government entity.
  • Instituting any hiring freeze.

The bill also calls for the reversal of any policies that hinder mail delivery, and for same-day election mail processing.

Read moreThe threat to vote by mail isn't fraud. It's disinformation and sabotage 

What's the controversy with the USPS? 

The current controversy involving the USPS started in June, when DeJoy, a major GOP donor, took the role of postmaster general and rolled out a series of cost-cutting measures designed to make the postal service more profitable, at the behest of Trump. This including cutting overtime, reorganizing the agency's structure and calling for late-arriving mail to be delivered the next day, which has resulted in a national slowdown of mail

Mail sorting machines and collection boxes have also been removed, fueling doubt that there will be adequate infrastructure to support mail-in ballots.

DeJoy announced on Tuesday that the USPS won't change its retail hours or close mail processing facilities, and mail collection boxes will remain where they are until after the election, to "avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail." 

After speaking with DeJoy, however, Pelosi released a statement calling the pause to changes "insufficient." 

"The Postmaster General frankly admitted that he had no intention of replacing the sorting machines, blue mailboxes and other key mail infrastructure that have been removed and that plans for adequate overtime, which is critical for the timely delivery of mail, are not in the works," Pelosi said in the statement. 

DeJoy testified about the recent changes made to the USPS during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Friday. He said that mail volume has dropped in recent years as package volume has grown, particularly during the pandemic. He has no intention, therefore, to bring back the 671 mail sorting machines that have been removed so far, because "they're not needed," he said during the hearing. There will be no changes made to election mail, he added. 

On Monday, at a hearing about the USPS changes before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, DeJoy said that some of the changes made have not gone smoothy and have led to delays, but that improvements are underway. He also said again that the USPS would prioritize election mail ahead of Nov. 3. 

"I encourage all Americans who choose to vote by mail to request their ballots early and vote early as a common sense best practice," DeJoy said in his opening statement