U.S. Sen. Susan Collins tours W.S. Emerson Company in Brewer in this July file photo. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN

NORTH MONMOUTH, Maine — Sen. Susan Collins said Thursday that efforts by the U.S. Postal Service to cut costs could backfire amid reported mail delays in Maine and across the country and reiterated support to increase funding to the embattled agency.

The vulnerable Republican’s comments came on the heels of comments from President Donald Trump earlier in the day, when he said he opposed funding for the postal service — which has faced a financial crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic — as part of a stimulus bill because it could be used to enhance mail-in voting.

Collins said Thursday that, though she had reservations about universal mail-in voting and preferred Maine’s no-reason-needed absentee system, Trump’s concerns were “no reason not to support assistance” for the postal service. She noted many Maine residents rely on mail for prescriptions and essentials. Efforts to cut costs could backfire if delays continue, she said.

“If people cannot depend on the Postal Service for prompt delivery of mail or packages, it will only further hurt the Postal Service’s financial situation,” Collins said.

The Maine senator, who is facing the most competitive re-election campaign of her career this year and has trailed House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, in recent public polls, spoke to reporters after a visit to a manufacturer in the Kennebec County village of North Monmouth on Thursday, one of several stops she made in central Maine that day.

Collins also sent a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Thursday, noting that the operational changes he had recently implemented were still not detailed to the public. In the letter, she requested that the agency “take steps to immediately remedy the factors that are causing delays in essential deliveries.”

DeJoy, a Trump donor who was appointed to his position in May, recently instituted cost-cutting measures, including reducing overtime. The result has been delays in packages and letters across the country. Earlier this week, the local postal union alleged 80,000 pieces of mail were delayed in southern Maine because postal service employees were not allowed to wait until the mail was loaded onto trucks, though a regional postal spokesperson said the number was lower.

The postal service has struggled financially for more than a decade, in part due to a 2006 reform bill requiring it to prefund decades of health benefits for retirees, which is not a requirement for other federal agencies. Collins backed that bill, as did most Republicans and some Democrats, but long-term trends in mail delivery have taken a massive toll.

The agency took another financial hit due to the coronavirus pandemic, as marketing mail slowed significantly. In early July, Collins co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, to provide $25 billion more to the postal service so it can continue to make payroll, but few other Republicans seem to be on board and the bill has not progressed so far.

Aid for the postal service, or other coronavirus-related relief, seems unlikely in the coming weeks as the Senate adjourned on Thursday, with no plans to return until early September.