While Underwood wants to boost postal funding, Oberweis suggests reducing mail delivery
With more Americans expected to vote by mail this fall because of the COVID-19 crisis, Republican congressional candidate Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove said the financially struggling U.S. Postal Service should end Saturday deliveries or deliver mail every other day to save money.
Oberweis, who's challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood of Naperville for the 14th Congressional District seat, proposed the service cuts during an online forum this week.
In contrast, Underwood is among the lawmakers who have supported bipartisan legislation that would give the financially ailing Postal Service $25 billion in additional funding requested by its board of governors and prohibit the removal of mail sorting machines and mailboxes ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
The candidates' remarks came as the Postal Service is embroiled in controversy over internal efforts to reduce mail service, as Democratic leaders and election authorities are expressing concerns about the safe and timely delivery of mailed ballots and as Republicans are warning about potential vote-by-mail fraud.
The 14th District candidates discussed mail service and other issues Tuesday in a forum run by the St. Charles Chamber of Commerce.
According to a 2019 report by the U.S. Government Accountability office, the Postal Service's financial condition is unsustainable. The agency has lost billions over the past decade, and its expenses are growing faster than revenues.
Oberweis, a state senator since 2013, said the Postal Service could operate profitably if it stops Saturday delivery "at a minimum."
"Saturday delivery is just unnecessary," he said.
People who have letters or packages that require next-day delivery can use the Postal Service's express service, FedEx or other private delivery businesses, he said.
Another option, Oberweis said, would be switching to every-other-day delivery. That would reduce vehicle and labor costs, he said.
"You could have one set of routes to whom we deliver on Monday, Wednesday (and) Friday, and another set of routes to whom we deliver on Tuesday, Thursday (and) Saturday," Oberweis said. "It would allow the post office to at least break even if not even perhaps operate profitably."
When asked about Oberweis' proposals afterward, Underwood expressed shock.
"In the midst of a pandemic, and with an election two months away, we're relying on (the Postal Service) more than ever," said Underwood, who's seeking a second term.
For an example of the service's importance, Underwood said the Department of Veterans Affairs provides about 80% of its outpatient prescriptions to veterans via the mail. She also noted every Illinoisan can vote by mail this year because of the pandemic.
"My opponent's proposal is dangerous for our democracy and our community," Underwood said.
Even as interest in voting by mail is rising, the Postal Service has removed or disabled mailboxes and mail-sorting machines across the country.
During Tuesday's forum, Underwood accused new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy of working to "roll back delivery times and the reliability of the Postal Service."
After a public uproar and a legislative inquiry, DeJoy said those efforts will stop, but he's refused to order eliminated equipment to be returned.
Late last month, Underwood and the House passed a Postal Service funding bill called the Delivering for America Act that would provide the requested $25 billion and restore delivery times and standards to what they were at the year's start. The Senate hasn't taken up the proposal.
In the forum, Underwood encouraged voters to request mail-in ballots via county clerk websites or to fill out applications mailed to them.
Oberweis agreed more people should be able to vote by mail this election. During a Senate session this spring, he suggested sending applications to potential voters with a mandatory mailer about a proposed amendment to the state Constitution regarding income taxes.
"Unfortunately, my Democratic colleagues refused that request," he said.
Oberweis also criticized Underwood's vote on the Delivering for America Act.
"My opponent's answer to almost everything is 'just spend more money,'" he said.
The 14th District includes parts of DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, Will, DeKalb and Kendall counties.