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Notice a slowdown in US Postal Service delivery? Here's why.

Anthony Maenza
York Dispatch

In the sea of parcels and packages sent this time of year via the U.S. Postal Service, all York City insurance agent Jimmy Williams wants to do is get important documents to his clients.

Getting insurance ID cards and premium notices mailed to clients is proving increasingly challenging as short-staffing and overwhelming demand slow mail service.

“We’re getting stuff that was mailed with postmark dates of October," he said, "and we’re just now getting them.”

U.S. Postal Service carrier Michelle Rehmeyer delivers mail at a residence on East Center Street during her route in Glen Rock Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. She's worked for the Postal Service for 16 years. Bill Kalina photo

Williams said his firm, J M Williams Insurance Agency, also saw some of its outgoing mail end up in a mailbox of another tenant in the same building. The neighbor brought the mail back to them with no postmark on it — likely meaning it never made it to the post office for processing.

And that's on top of generally inconsistent deliveries.

“We might get mail twice a week,” Williams said. “Half the time it’s junk mail, everybody trying to sell you something. It’s been pretty bad.” 

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Williams, of course, is not alone. He was one of dozens of York County residents who reached out to The York Dispatch with stories about irregular deliveries, delayed mail and other issues.

The trouble in York County is a symptom of a bigger problem the U.S. Postal Service has been grappling with since 2020 in moving mail around the country in an efficient and dependable manner. 

United States Postal Service carrier Jordan Russell delivers mail along Wallace Street as winter storm weather begins in York City, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

That’s when Postmaster General Louis DeJoy instituted a 10-year plan for the USPS that eliminated overtime, banned late or additional trips to deliver mail, decommissioned hundreds of high-speed mail-sorting machines, and removed some mail collection boxes from streets. The changes caused significant delays for mail delivery and resulted in investigations by congressional committees and the USPS inspector general.

Add to that the staffing shortages that most businesses have experienced since emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, and you have a recipe for customer frustration. 

“We are experiencing sporadic challenges with employee availability in some locations causing occasional impacts to mail deliveries,” USPS spokesperson Mark Lawrence said. “We have taken specific actions to continue service to our valued customers.” 

According to Lawrence, the changes include authorizing more overtime for postal workers and expanding deliveries earlier in the morning and later into the evening. Lawrence called for customers to be patient and understanding as the service adjusts delivery routes.

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However, it was clear earlier this fall that the USPS could be in trouble.

Earlier this year, USPS officials told the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee that it planned to hire 20,000 temporary employees for the holiday season, according to reporting by Government Executive. That's actually a nearly 30% decrease from its previously stated hiring goal.

DeJoy, who was appointed during the Trump administration and previously led a private logistics company, issued assurances at the time that the postal service didn't need to hire as many temporary workers because of the installation of 137 new package-sorting machines ahead of the holiday season, bringing the total to 249 additional package-processing machines since March 2021.

FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2018, file photo Amazon Prime boxes are loaded on a cart for delivery in New York. The nation’s major shipping companies are in the best shape to get holiday shoppers’ packages delivered on time since the start of the pandemic, suggesting a return to normalcy. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Williams, the York-area insurance agent, has taken to sending more documents via email because regular mail is so unreliable.

“We’ve been doing a lot of that,” Williams said. "We’ll scan stuff in that comes in and just email it to the clients so they can get it faster because there is no telling when they are going to get it from our office."

But email isn’t the solution for every client, he said.

“Some of our clientele don’t like email,” Williams said. “We have some older clients out there that say, ‘No. I don’t have an email address’ or ‘I don’t want to use it.'”

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Dawn Staub, of Dover, not only experiences delays receiving mail but has also had problems getting her outgoing mail picked up. Staub's outgoing mail went four days without being picked up by a carrier before her husband took it out of the box and mailed it from his workplace instead.

"What I believe is happening is you've got companies like Amazon who are using the post office to deliver their packages,” Staub said. "And the post office is so overwhelmed with that because they are understaffed. They just can't handle all the extra work."

FILE - A United States Postal Service employee works outside a post office in Wheeling, Ill., Dec. 3, 2021.  The nation’s major shipping companies are in the best shape to get holiday shoppers’ packages delivered on time since the start of the pandemic, suggesting a return to normalcy. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

The regular letter carrier they have on their route was taken off it and replaced by a fill-in worker, Staub said. 

“If they can't find anybody (to fill in), we don't get any mail,” she said. 

Brian Johnson, national business agent for Region 12 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said that members are willing to do what it takes to get the mail moving. 

“No matter what carrier is there, they’re dedicated and we’re dedicated to servicing the customer,” Johnson said. 

That can entail a lot of overtime for letter carriers, Johnson said, which is not surprising considering the staffing issues at some post offices. 

“I’m sure they are (putting in a lot of overtime),” he said. “Every peak season like Christmastime, that’s been that way with the Postal Service for years. Even when I started way back when, there was mandatory overtime.” 

The online shopping explosion, Johnson said, made things difficult not only for the USPS but for all delivery services. 

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“We go through this every Christmas,” he said. “These companies start having their sales earlier and earlier. These companies start their Black Friday sales two weeks earlier now. It’s part of the job and we know it. November and December are going to be some hectic times. Every carrier is dedicated and we all know it’s part of the job. We’re here to service the customers.” 

Robert Kannengieser, of Dover, says his letter carrier goes above and beyond to deliver not only packages but regular mail as well. 

"Our carrier here, goes above and beyond," he said. "I hope people realize that and start giving her a nice Christmas card with a nice tip in it. She deserves it and hopefully she gets it." 

Kannengieser said he just started getting regular mail thanks to the mail carrier that handles his neighborhood. He said they need more like her. 

"They're short of carriers. They're short of workers. They're short of help,” he said.

Kannengieser has heard about the local staffing issues for some time.

"I think since DeJoy got into where he is as postmaster general, he's screwed things up," Kannengeiser said. "You saw it during COVID. They were destroying the machines because of the election ballots. That was a lot of hogwash. That should have never happened." 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This article was updated to reflect that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was appointed during the Trump administration.