“It’s just piles of our mail sitting in the post office.”
Residents in Philadelphia and nearby neighborhoods are reporting delays in receiving their mail as long as three weeks, highlighting the effects of national U.S. Postal Service (USPS) policy changes.
Mail carriers and leaders of the local union told The Philadelphia Inquirer that boxes of mail are being left undelivered in post office locations because of new rules regarding their workflow, priorities, and hours. It’s causing issues for people in Pennsylvania and beyond who may rely on the USPS for essential mail services, including packages of food, paychecks, or prescription medication.
“It’s the same runaround, but nothing is being done,” Robert Young, who waited more than a week for his worker’s compensation payments, told the Inquirer. “It’s just piles of our mail sitting in the post office.”
Staff shortages have also plagued local offices. As the Inquirer reports, at least 133 Postal Service workers have tested positive for the coronavirus since March, according to records provided by American Postal Workers Union Local 89. Two employees have died.
In June, mail carriers protested in Philadelphia to demand greater support for the agency.
The city’s mail fiasco is an issue happening nationally: Delays are being reported from Baltimore to Chicago and the Bay Area in California. At the same time, the agency is managing increased demand due to the coronavirus pandemic amid financial issues, while contesting doubts of its capacity to handle mail-in voting for the November election.
Earlier this year, the Postal Service warned it could run out of money by September, but thanks to a large increase of packages from e-commerce orders in April and May, those fears have somewhat lessened.
The USPS has struggled financially for years, in part because it is legally required to deliver all mail to all postal addresses in every region of the United States at a flat rate, regardless of distance. It is an essential service in rural communities because private companies such as UPS and FedEx don’t deliver to remote, rural areas; it’s just not profitable to do so.
The U.S. Treasury Department announced last month it could lend the USPS $10 billion to help with operating costs. President Donald Trump has previously threatened to block the agency from receiving any aid if they did not raise shipping rates for online retailers.
“The Postal Service is a joke,” Trump told reporters in April. “If they don’t raise the price I’m not signing anything.”
The following month, President Trump appointed a new postmaster general, longtime Republican donor Louis DeJoy, who rolled out a new advisory that had carriers disregard traditional USPS training that emphasized not leaving mail behind—even doing multiple delivery runs in order to get mail out on time—according to the Washington Post.
“If the plants run late, they will keep the mail for the next day,” according to the document issued by DeJoy in early July.
The Democratic-led House Oversight and Reform Committee has requested that DeJoy appear for a testimony discussing delays.
Other subsequent memos declared transportation options would be cut, and overtime reduced. Postal workers and unions say the changes are causing snares in their workflow and insurmountable delays for Americans who rely on the USPS.
“If we can’t serve the people at a time they want things quicker, it undermines people’s confidence in the postal service, which they usually strongly support,” Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, told USA TODAY.
As the country faces a general election unlike any other, more states are expanding their vote-by-mail options. Pennsylvania passed an election reform bill last year that allows residents to request a ballot for any election from their home, for any reason at all. The June 2 primary saw a huge increase in mail-in votes, and many experts predict a large uptick in voters opting for this option in the fall.
Trump, meanwhile, has claimed the agency cannot manage the load of increased mail-in votes. The USPS disagrees.
“The Postal Service has ample capacity to adjust our nationwide processing and delivery network to meet projected Election and Political Mail volume, including any additional volume that may result as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the agency said in a statement released Monday.