Mailbox

A man drops off mail behind the federal building in downtown Bozeman on Friday.

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Montana officials raised concerns Friday over reports that mail collection boxes in Montana — including some in Bozeman — may be removed by the U.S. Postal Service.

Later that day, they said the agency had announced it would pause removal of collection boxes in Montana.

Montana’s congressional delegation said they’d heard boxes have been or are scheduled to be removed in Billings, Bozeman, Missoula and Lewistown. Republican Sen. Steve Daines said he also heard about removals in Livingston.

Around 4:30 p.m., Daines and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester issued statements saying the Postal Service had decided to hold off on removing collection boxes in Montana.

“Dependable mail service is a cornerstone of life in Montana, and I am glad USPS listened to me and the chorus of voices who spoke loudly in opposition to this harebrained scheme that would have cut off Montanans’ access to critical postal services like paying their bills and voting in upcoming elections,” Tester said.

“I’m glad the USPS acted swiftly upon my request and halted any further removal of collection boxes,” Daines said.

Reports that the boxes were being removed drew criticism from a number of politicians on Friday, including Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte and Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. All said removing the boxes would harm Montanans who rely on the Postal Service to receive essential items.

All three members of the delegation and Bullock wrote letters to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy requesting an explanation for why the boxes are being removed.

The United States Postal Service didn’t respond to questions from the Chronicle about which collection boxes in Montana are being removed.

Instead, spokesperson Floyd Wagoner provided a written statement, saying the removal of boxes is based on mail volume and that, in recent years, the Postal Service has focused on relocating low-use boxes to more popular spots, such as grocery stores and business parks.

“This is a normal operational procedure to make sure the majority of our boxes are in high traffic areas and convenient for customers,” Wagoner wrote.

NBC Montana received confirmation from the Montana State Association of the National Association of Letter Carriers that there were orders to remove nine collection boxes in Bozeman, 30 in Billings, 13 in Missoula and three in Lewistown. The National Association of Letter Carriers didn’t respond to an inquiry from the Chronicle.

Gary Phillippe, president of the Montana Postal Workers Union, said he’s heard DeJoy, a major Republican donor who recently became postmaster general, is directing the removal of collection boxes, cutting overtime and slowing delivery, to intentionally delay mail.

“In essence, his goal is to diminish our reputation by slowing down the movement, which in the end, slows down the delivery,” Phillippe said.

Last week, Daines and Gianforte sent DeJoy letters requesting he reverse these policies.

Tester also wrote a letter with dozens of other senators to DeJoy last week asking him to reverse his decision to not automatically consider election mail as first class, which could make elections more expensive and could delay ballots, thereby disenfranchising voters.

Over the last month, Congress has debated whether to include aid to the Postal Service and to states for elections in the next round of coronavirus relief. The debate stalled this week with the Senate adjourning until September without reaching a deal.

Both Tester and Daines support a Senate bill that would give the Postal Service $25 billion to keep it afloat during the pandemic.

Gianforte voted against the House version of the latest round of coronavirus relief, known as the Heroes Act, which included additional money for the Postal Service.

President Donald Trump has opposed additional funding for the Postal Service. He has also repeatedly made false claims that mail-in voting leads to widespread fraud.

On Thursday, the president admitted he didn’t want to provide more money to the Postal Service in order to make it more difficult to deliver mail ballots, which many states, including Montana, will likely rely on for the November election because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Freddy Monares contributed to this report.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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