United States Postal Service locations in West Virginia aren’t under threat to close before the 2020 General Election, a liaison for the USPS said in a letter on Friday.
A misunderstanding between United States Postal Service Appalachian District officials and local postmasters in West Virginia led to signs indicating possible closure being displayed at post offices throughout West Virginia, Sheila Meyers, government liaison manager for USPS told Sen. Joe Manchin in a letter.
However, that letter indicated that 12 post offices in the state were identified for feasibility studies, meaning they could close later, and another 24 locations had been identified for possibly having their hours cut.
The letter did not state which post offices were the subject of the study or potentially cut hours.
When the information about the feasibility study was relayed from Appalachian District officials to local postmasters, “some thought it meant that the offices identified for possible closure had already been studied,” Meyers said.
“As a result, closure signage was inadvertently placed in those Post Offices and has since been removed,” Meyers said. “Please know that this was a misunderstanding, and we sincerely apologize for any frustration or confusion this may have caused you and your constituents.”
In a news release Friday, Manchin said he was relieved to hear the USPS offices weren’t closing, but he had more questions than answers.
“I have more questions now than before I got this response,” Manchin said in a news release. “Where are these post office locations that might be shut down or have their hours reduced? Why were these locations selected? Why wasn’t any of this information included in the letter as I requested?”
Manchin previously reached out to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Tuesday, asking him about signs that were posted in post offices throughout West Virginia, including Fairmont and Huntington, indicating those locations either were set to close or significantly cut their hours on Aug. 22 or 24. Manchin had asked for information about which offices were set to close and the process to reach the decision to close them.
The Postal Service locations that had signs likely had been identified for study, but they are not scheduled to close or alter their hours at this time, according to Meyers’ letter.
Meyers’ letter was a response to Manchin’s request for more information about the closures and whether the USPS would follow federal law that required certain steps that, at minimum, required 120 days’ notice before closing post offices.
In the letter and during a press call with reporters on Wednesday, Manchin expressed concerns that President Donald Trump’s administration intended to privatize the Postal Service, which traces its roots back to 1775 when Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first Postmaster General by the Continental Congress.
Manchin told DeJoy in his letter that the Postal Service was the only link to medicine, Social Security checks and family members for people who live in very rural parts of the country, particularly in West Virginia.
“The Service’s affordability and continued accessibility are essential for rural communities, especially those with high rates of poverty,” Manchin said in the letter.
Manchin also talked with reporters about how possible Post Office closures during an election cycle in the middle of a pandemic would affect a general election in which more ballots than normal are projected to be cast through the mail.
“We’re going to have to have a functioning postal service for this to operate, to work,” Manchin said. “This is just asinine to think you could shut something down or throttle it back in the throes of the pandemic when basically the lifeline for democracy and voting is going to be in the hands of the postal service.”
Half of the votes cast during West Virginia’s 2020 primary election were absentee ballots.
Secretary of State Mac Warner said to lose post offices during an election cycle would be ‘concerning,’ but he said election officials were committed to making the election as safe as possible.
“West Virginia is prepared for a fair, free, safe, healthy election,” Warner said. “Just as we could have and would have pulled of an election on May 12, if the governor hadn’t changed it, we are ready for a Nov. 3 election. I don’t anticipate any change, and we are ready and prepared for an election on Nov. 3.”