USA TODAY US Edition

Mail de­lays plague USPS across na­tion

Busi­ness own­ers, cus­tomers grow­ing frus­trated over slow­down in de­liv­er­ies

- Joel Shan­non, Dono­van Slack and Kevin McCoy Business · Infectious Diseases · Health Conditions · United States Postal Service · United States of America · Democratic Party (United States) · Donald Trump · Joe Biden · Joe · The Postal Service · Philadelphia Union · University of Miami · United States Senate · Homeland · Department of Homeland Security · Louisville · Kentucky · Louisville · California · Facebook · San Francisco Bay Area · Nashville · Vietnam · Veterans Affairs · Virginia · Washington · Detroit · New Jersey · New York City · Noel · York City F.C. · New York · Kearney, MO · Stephen Kearney · Alliance · Williams · Union · Tennessee · U.S. Government Accountability Office · Government Accountability Office · Congress of the United States · David Walliams · Des Moines · Michigan · Wisconsin · Burns · Valdez, AK · Disabled American Veterans · Reese, Texas · American Postal Workers Union · Johnson

Empty mail­boxes, un­counted bal­lots, late med­i­ca­tion, missed rent pay­ments – those are among the re­al­world im­pacts of the strug­gles of the U.S. Postal Ser­vice.

Many of those is­sues, doc­u­mented this sum­mer across the USA TO­DAY Net­work, pre­date the fever­ish de­bate about whether mail is delayed by the Postal Ser­vice’s ef­forts to cut over­time, re­move mail pro­cess­ing equip­ment and even move blue col­lec­tion boxes.

Top Democrats al­lege the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is kneecap­ping the Postal Ser­vice to ham­per mail-in and ab­sen­tee vot­ing, which surged this spring amid the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. In Novem­ber, more sup­port­ers of Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joe Bi­den are likely to vote by mail.

The Postal Ser­vice’s long-stand­ing fi­nan­cial is­sues have been wors­ened by the pan­demic.

“The U.S. Postal Ser­vice, like other de­liv­ery com­pa­nies, has ex­pe­ri­enced some tem­po­rary ser­vice dis­rup­tions in a few lo­ca­tions do­mes­ti­cally due to the COVID-19 pan­demic,” spokesman Dave Parten­heimer ac­knowl­edged in an email to USA TO­DAY.

Post­mas­ter Gen­eral Louis DeJoy said he will pause – but not roll back – cost-cut­ting moves un­til af­ter the elec­tion. He is sched­uled to tes­tify about the is­sue be­fore the Se­nate Home­land Se­cu­rity and Gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs Com­mit­tee on Fri­day.

Ac­counts of mail de­lays have been doc­u­mented across the coun­try in re­cent weeks by the USA TO­DAY Net­work. One of the most com­mon com­plaints: Mail is sim­ply not de­liv­ered for days on end.

In Louisville, Ken­tucky, Caleb Jenk­ins said he did not re­ceive any­thing for six days straight in July. “With med­i­cal bills and all those type of things com­ing in the mail, it’s been re­ally frus­trat­ing,” he said.

In ru­ral Cal­i­for­nia, Tracey Le­gateDumke said in a Face­book group that she went about a month with­out mail this sum­mer.

Dianna Burns wrote in the same group that her rent was late in June be­cause her mail car­rier didn’t pick up her mail for four days. She took the en­ve­lope to the post of­fice and com­plained. “I also com­plained that I don’t get my mail, or it gets to me two weeks af­ter it was sent out,” she wrote.

Busi­ness own­ers and peo­ple who rely on mail-or­der med­i­ca­tions raised sim­i­lar is­sues.

“More peo­ple are shel­ter­ing at home, and they need es­sen­tials, so they’re buy­ing ev­ery­thing on­line.” Au­gus­tine Ruiz a spokesman for the Bay Area Postal Ser­vice

For about a decade, Nashville small busi­ness owner Cy­belle Elena has de­pended on the Postal Ser­vice to de­liver her prod­ucts – clothing and ac­ces­sories. Usu­ally, it’s “ex­tremely re­li­able,” she said, but dur­ing the pan­demic, pack­ages have been delayed days or even weeks. Some never ar­rive.

Busi­ness is way up af­ter she be­gan pro­duc­ing masks, but she spends more time and money help­ing cus­tomers who haven’t re­ceived their or­ders.

In Cal­i­for­nia, Richard Valdez – a Viet­nam vet­eran and for­mer state com­man­der of Dis­abled Amer­i­can Veter­ans – said he’s still wait­ing for med­i­ca­tions he or­dered from the Depart­ment of Veter­ans Af­fairs on July 25. They typ­i­cally ar­rive within three or four days, he said.

De­lays in some ar­eas spurred the VA to switch to other car­ri­ers, said Randy Reese, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Dis­abled Amer­i­can Veter­ans’ Wash­ing­ton head­quar­ters. The VA de­tected de­lays in Detroit and parts of New Jersey and New York, and it tem­po­rar­ily switched to UPS in those places.

The VA told the veter­ans group that av­er­age de­liv­ery time in­creased from 2.3 days in June 2019 to about 2.9 days in July.

A spokes­woman for the VA, Christina Noel, de­clined to say whether the VA re­ceived com­plaints, when the de­lays were de­tected or how long they lasted. Pre­scrip­tions sent by U.S. mail ar­rive within three days on av­er­age, she said, “less than the 3-5 day de­liv­ery time­line out­lined on the depart­ment’s web­site.”

It’s un­clear how widespread de­liv­ery prob­lems are, but Postal Ser­vice data shows de­liv­er­ies are tak­ing longer than they did last year. On-time first-class de­liv­er­ies dropped from 93.4% in the sec­ond quar­ter of 2019 to 90.8% for the same pe­riod this year. The goal was 96%.

In New York City, a USA TO­DAY reporter did not re­ceive ab­sen­tee pri­mary bal­lots un­til two days af­ter the pri­mary in June, even though an email from the Postal Ser­vice’s In­formed De­liv­ery in­di­cated they would be de­liv­ered sev­eral days be­fore the elec­tion.

Con­cerns over mail-in vot­ing prob­lems have fu­eled a firestorm over the Postal Ser­vice’s per­for­mance and cost­cut­ting. Even rou­tine main­te­nance of mail­boxes has been la­beled voter sup­pres­sion. A group of 14 Demo­cratic at­tor­neys gen­eral sued the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion over the changes.

The im­pact on mail de­liv­ery is un­clear to Stephen Kear­ney, a for­mer se­nior ex­ec­u­tive with the Postal Ser­vice who serves as the ex­ec­u­tive di­recter for the Al­liance of Non­profit Mail­ers, which says its members are re­spon­si­ble for about 10% of all Postal Ser­vice mail vol­ume.

Though mail de­lays tied to the pan­demic are well-doc­u­mented from April to June, de­lays since the Postal Ser­vice cut ex­penses in July are not, he said.

Anec­do­tally, “any vari­a­tions seem to be within nor­mal ranges,” he told USA TO­DAY by email.

The pan­demic’s ef­fect

Parten­heimer said de­liv­ery ser­vice is “slowly get­ting back to nor­mal” af­ter prob­lems. Pri­vate ship­ping com­pa­nies also strug­gled in the early months of the pan­demic.

Au­gus­tine Ruiz, a spokesman for the Bay Area Postal Ser­vice, said a back­log doc­u­mented by The Cal­i­for­nian, part of the USA TO­DAY Net­work, is due to low staff num­bers and high par­cel vol­umes.

“More peo­ple are shel­ter­ing at home, and they need es­sen­tials, so they’re buy­ing ev­ery­thing on­line,” Ruiz said told The Cal­i­for­nian in mid-July.

Post of­fices strug­gle to han­dle the flood of pack­ages be­cause of staffing is­sues caused by the coro­n­avirus pan­demic and per­son­nel cuts over the past few years, said Cassie Wil­liams, a ste­ward of the Amer­i­can Postal Work­ers Union lo­cal in Nashville, Ten­nessee.

Postal Ser­vice spokes­woman Martha John­son told USA TO­DAY on Wed­nes­day that 8,789 postal em­ploy­ees have tested pos­i­tive for COVID-19 – slightly more than 1% of its work­force.

The U.S. Postal Ser­vice has touched nearly ev­ery Amer­i­can house­hold dur­ing its more than 200 years of ser­vice, de­liv­er­ing let­ters, birthday cards, medicine, So­cial Se­cu­rity checks, pack­ages and mag­a­zines.

But if the trusted in­sti­tu­tion were a hos­pi­tal pa­tient, it would prob­a­bly be in the in­ten­sive care unit.

An au­dit is­sued in Septem­ber 2019 by the Postal Ser­vice’s Of­fice of In­spec­tor Gen­eral said mail han­dling and de­liv­ery costs in­creased by roughly $5 bil­lion or 13% over five years when ad­justed for in­fla­tion. To­tal mail vol­ume car­ried dropped by 5.7%, the au­dit said.

Though pack­age vol­ume has in­creased dur­ing the pan­demic, that’s not ex­pected to off­set losses in mar­ket­ing and first-class mail, which gen­er­ated more rev­enue in 2019.

A 2006 fed­eral law re­quires the Postal Ser­vice to pre-fund re­tiree health ben­e­fits, even though the money won’t be paid un­til well in the fu­ture. The pro­vi­sion has cost bil­lions.

The Postal Ser­vice re­ported a loss of nearly $9 bil­lion last year.

A Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice re­port is­sued in May said con­gres­sional ac­tion is “es­sen­tial to en­able a sus­tain­able busi­ness model” that would keep the Postal Ser­vice run­ning.

Congress and other stake­hold­ers haven’t reached an agree­ment on a road for­ward.

Union of­fi­cials said cost-cut­ting and staff cuts con­trib­uted to the de­lays re­ported across the na­tion.

“You can’t blame (all of) this on the pan­demic,” Wil­liams said. “They were set­ting this up from years ago. They have cut it down to a min­i­mum.”

Postal Ser­vice rules limit over­time

In July, a month af­ter DeJoy took over, the Postal Ser­vice out­lined a num­ber of mea­sures to cut costs, in­clud­ing over­time. Ex­tra de­liv­ery trips were to be elim­i­nated, and shifts would start and end on time.

Be­cause of the changes, “we may see mail left be­hind or mail on the work­room floor or docks,” said a memo, which the Amer­i­can Postal Work­ers Union shared with USA TO­DAY. The causes would be in­ves­ti­gated and fixed the fol­low­ing day, the memo said.

In a let­ter to law­mak­ers this month,

Postal Ser­vice CEO David Wil­liams said the agency is try­ing to in­crease the ef­fi­ciency of mail sort­ing and pro­cess­ing, which may in­clude re­mov­ing ma­chines and run­ning them for shorter pe­ri­ods, de­pend­ing on vol­ume.

He ac­knowl­edged that “tem­po­rary ser­vice im­pacts” may oc­cur but pledged they would be mon­i­tored and cor­rected.

Union of­fi­cials crit­i­cized those de­ci­sions, say­ing they would cause de­liv­ery de­lays.

Des Moines Lo­cal 44 Amer­i­can Postal Work­ers Union Pres­i­dent Mike Bates said a su­per­vi­sor or­dered a car­rier to halt his route at the sched­uled end of his shift, even though he had not fin­ished de­liv­er­ies.

Bates said man­age­ment car­ried out the re­moval of mail-sort­ing ma­chines at the Des Moines dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ter. That caused a back­log at some post of­fices in Au­gust, Bates said.

“We’ve been pro­grammed that it’s, ‘Ev­ery piece (of mail), ev­ery day,’ ” he said. “When you see stuff left be­hind, it hits you in the core. You take a lot of pride in just mov­ing the mail.”

The Al­liance of Non­profit Mail­ers said it’s too soon to know what ef­fect cost-cut­ting mea­sures are hav­ing, if any: “Seven weeks into the new lead­er­ship of USPS, we be­lieve it is near-im­pos­si­ble to sort out whether a mail de­liv­ery prob­lem is busi­ness as usual, re­lated to the pan­demic, an ad­just­ment to the new op­er­a­tional poli­cies, or some­thing else. Time and real data will tell, hope­fully.”

What was im­pact on vot­ing?

Re­ports of mail-re­lated prob­lems dur­ing this year’s pri­mary elec­tions fuel con­cerns head­ing into the gen­eral elec­tion.

More than 6,400 Michi­gan vot­ers did not have their ab­sen­tee bal­lots counted for the pri­mary elec­tions be­cause clerks re­ceived them af­ter polls closed on Elec­tion Day, Aug. 4.

In New Jersey, a postal worker left bal­lots on a hall­way floor in May in­stead of putting them in mail­boxes be­cause he said his ac­cess key wasn’t work­ing, ac­cord­ing to a re­port is­sued by the post of­fice in­spec­tor gen­eral.

The Postal Ser­vice iden­ti­fied hun­dreds of Wis­con­sin ab­sen­tee bal­lots for the elec­tion in April that never made it to vot­ers or couldn’t be counted be­cause of post­mark prob­lems, ac­cord­ing to the in­spec­tor gen­eral.

Two sweep­ing fed­eral court law­suits filed this week sug­gest cost-cut­ting mea­sures could af­fect the gen­eral elec­tion.

A law­suit filed by at­tor­neys gen­eral in 14 states said the Postal Ser­vice changes would re­quire states to pay first-class rates if they didn’t want vot­ers to put a stamp on bal­lots. That would raise the cost from 20 cents to 55 cents per bal­lot, cost­ing states “tens of mil­lions of dol­lars,” the law­suit charged.

A law­suit filed by the Na­tional Ur­ban League, the League of Women Vot­ers and Com­mon Cause al­leges the Postal Ser­vice took out of ser­vice one of ev­ery seven of its De­liv­ery Bar­code Sorter Ma­chines, used to sort let­ters, post­cards and bal­lots.

By the time DeJoy called a tem­po­rary halt to the process, the Postal Ser­vice had de­com­mis­sioned 95% of the sort­ing ma­chines sched­uled to be re­moved, the law­suit al­leges, cit­ing me­dia re­ports. Con­tribut­ing: Ben Tobin, Louisville Courier Jour­nal; Steve Orr and Gary Craig, Rochester Demo­crat and Chron­i­cle; Kate Ci­mini, Sali­nas Cal­i­for­nian; Cassandra Stephen­son and Mariah Timms, The (Nashville) Tennessean; Ni­cholas Wu and Sa­van­nah Behrmann, USA TO­DAY; The As­so­ci­ated Press

 ?? BRONTE WITTPENN/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK ?? Sarah Ly­ford ex­presses her sup­port for the U.S. Postal Ser­vice dur­ing a rally Tues­day in front of a post of­fice in Austin, Texas. Some fear postal cut­backs could in­ter­fere with elec­tions.
BRONTE WITTPENN/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK Sarah Ly­ford ex­presses her sup­port for the U.S. Postal Ser­vice dur­ing a rally Tues­day in front of a post of­fice in Austin, Texas. Some fear postal cut­backs could in­ter­fere with elec­tions.
 ?? J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP ?? Let­ter car­ri­ers load trucks with mail to be de­liv­ered at a U.S. Postal Ser­vice fa­cil­ity in McLean, Va., on July 31. Many vot­ers may de­cide to cast their bal­lots in Novem­ber by mail rather than risk ex­po­sure to the coro­n­avirus.
J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP Let­ter car­ri­ers load trucks with mail to be de­liv­ered at a U.S. Postal Ser­vice fa­cil­ity in McLean, Va., on July 31. Many vot­ers may de­cide to cast their bal­lots in Novem­ber by mail rather than risk ex­po­sure to the coro­n­avirus.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA