Postal problems for rural communities

Published: May. 2, 2023 at 6:21 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Town Manager Dara MacDonald of Crested Butte, Colorado, which has a population of fewer than 2,000 people, has been talking to the Post Office since 2018 to try to get mailing problems fixed in her community. She blames many of the issues on personnel shortages.

“So in Crested Butte we don’t receive any home delivery at all. We only receive mail through P.O. Boxes, which has resulted in a lot of long lines. That’s our most pressing problem,” said MacDonald, “with parcel delivery there is no parcel lockers so anytime someone gets something from Amazon, Wayfair, or any online retailer they literally have to wait in line at a desk and that line can be hours long.”

MacDonald said the U.S. Postal Service did hold a job fair in the community a few weeks ago, so she is hopeful things are changing. She said she’s also noticed a recent improvement in service after years of what she calls ‘subpar’ service. However, she said the town needs more communication from the U.S. Postal Service about what the future holds. Now, leaders have joined nearby municipalities to explore legal options.

“Crested Butte joined with 6 other Colorado municipalities to pursue understanding our options to file a complaint about the subpar service that we’ve all been receiving for years now. We have received an analysis on how we could approach the Postal Regulatory Commission to pursue complaints. And now, we’re all evaluating what potential next steps might look like,” she said.

Staffing issues are also at the center of complaints in rural communities in Vermont. The state’s congressional delegation of Rep. Becca Balint, Sen. Peter Welch, and Sen. Bernie Sanders drafted two letters to Postal Service leaders to highlight the problems. In February, one letter read in part, “across our state, Vermonters have reported ‘First Class’ mail delays that have lasted for multiple weeks, with businesses and individuals receiving deliveries that include bills whose due dates have passed by the time they are received.”

The U.S. Postal Service issued a four-page response in March. It said in part, “as in many other parts of the country, the Postal Service has experienced employee availability issues due to personnel shortages in Vermont. Like other government agencies and private sector employers we must contend with a tight labor market that has complicated the hiring process, making it harder to find and retain employees. Though we attempt to manage these business challenges with every available tool, these personnel shortages have led to inconsistent service, as noted in your letter, and to aid understaffed units, management monitors daily staffing levels and works to mitigate the day-to-day staffing shortage we are facing in Vermont and across the country.”

Congress took steps to make the U.S. Postal Service more financially viable when it passed the bipartisan Postal Service Reform Act last year. Yet, Sen. Welch said more needs to be done and he expects Postmaster Louis DeJoy to lead the efforts.

“You know this is really a managerial crisis. Congress, on a bipartisan basis, dealt with a big financial issue by dealing with the healthcare and the retirement issues. And, we thought that Mr. DeJoy would get on top of managing getting the mail from the Post Office to the Post Office and to the customers. And, he hasn’t done it. And, it’s really tough, especially in rural America. You need your Social Security check. You got to get your medications. You got to pay your bills. You got to hear from your kids. So, we’re really calling on the postal management to manage. Get the personnel. Get the systems in place. Get the mail delivered,” said Senator Welch.

Rep. Becca Balint added that she brought up the issue with the Chair of the Oversight Committee because she believes more oversight is needed of the U.S. Postal Service.

“There are definitely pockets of Vermont that are not seeing fast service, people waiting days and days for delivery. I know when speaking to representatives from the Postal Service they’re having a really hard time hiring folks in Vermont for some of those routes,” said Rep. Balint.

In a further statement to Washington News Bureau reporter Jamie Bittner, a Postal Service spokesperson said this: “The U.S. Postal Service continues to make service delivery improvements across the country. Currently, 97 percent of the nation’s population receives their mail in less than three days, and we are working hard to correct service-related issues in other limited areas. Like all logistics carriers, we must contend with a tight labor market that is making it harder to find and retain employees, including in some rural areas. This has resulted in staffing shortage delays in certain parts of the country which has an impact on our service delivery performance. Postal Service management is monitoring daily staffing levels and working to mitigate issues as they arise. We are also aggressively hiring and holding frequent job fairs. As part of the Postal Service’s Delivering for America 10-year plan, we continue to focus on stabilizing the USPScareer workforce. Through the collective bargaining process, the Postal Service negotiated a provision that allows pre-career employees who stay employed with the Postal Service for two years to be automatically converted to career status. In fiscal year 2022, the Postal Service converted more than 48,000 employees to career positions.”

The U.S. Post Office relies on the sales of postage and other products to fund operating expenses. The Postal Service is citing inflation for why it needs to raise prices for first class stamps, again. They’re expected to hit 66-cents per stamp in July.