U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger said overworked postal carriers in his Baltimore County district are scrambling to fill routes, backlogged mail has filled post office hallways, and some perishable items have become fodder for rodents and insects.
The Democrat is asking the U.S. Postal Service’s inspector general to audit six post office locations — Dundalk, Essex, Middle River, Parkville, Rosedale and Towson — that he said face issues that are “disproportional both in volume of complaints and severity.”
As part of his emailed request Wednesday, he asked Inspector General Tammy L. Whitcomb to root out “the systemic causes of the irregular delivery and staffing shortages in the Baltimore District” and identify remedies.
Complaints about delays in customers receiving checks, letters, prescription medication, presents and holiday cards have dogged the Postal Service during the coronavirus pandemic.
The issue became politicized during last year’s presidential election because Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a former Republican fundraiser appointed during the administration of then-President Donald Trump, took actions that critics said were intended to slow the delivery of mail-in ballots.
An audit like the one requested by Ruppersberger would take a few months and include surprise inspections of the post offices under scrutiny, according to the congressman’s staff.
Bill Triplett, a spokesman for the inspector general, said Wednesday that officials in the office received Ruppersberger’s request and “are reviewing it for possible next steps.”
Ruppersberger, who is in his 10th term, said he’s now receiving an unprecedented level of constituent complaints, and that delivery issues — and his frustration — have reached a breaking point. He said he’s seen constituents in Dundalk waiting in long lines at the post office before emerging carrying “shoe boxes of backlogged mail.”
As of mid-May, the congressman’s staff reported that it was exploring 414 mail-related constituent complaints, many targeting the Dundalk and Essex post offices.
“Throughout my time in Congress, I have never received complaints of this magnitude or severity,” Ruppersberger wrote in an email to DeJoy, also sent this week, in which he requested a meeting with the agency’s leadership.
In seeking the audit, the congressman’s staff members outlined specific issues — some they believe are related to staffing shortages — at each of the six area locations. In an email Thursday, the staff added they had learned of “high tensions among overworked employees,” some of who were using overtime to cover routes.
The Postal Service did not reply Wednesday to requests for comments. Freda Sauter, a regional spokesperson, said Thursday that the agency was preparing a response, but did not deliver one.
In the first three months of this year, Baltimore was last in the country in delivery of three-to-five-day mail, according to a Postal Service report. It said 24.9% of that type of mail was delivered on time in the area.
At 78.1%, Alaska had the best on-time record, the document said. It said the national on-time figure of 57.9% was about 25 points lower than the same period a year ago, but it did not provide an explanation for the drop.
In April, the agency said the pandemic had limited employees’ availability and affected delivery. Sauter told The Baltimore Sun in an email that month, however, that the service had “taken appropriate actions” and that “we believe mail deliveries have returned to normal.”
Before the November election, critics accused DeJoy of politicizing the service and making cuts to slow the arrival of mail-in ballots that would likely favor Democrats. Some proposed cuts were blocked in federal court.
DeJoy has said he is making the agency more efficient and fiscally sound. In March, he announced a 10-year plan, including higher prices for postage and extending a window for delivering first-class mail from one to three days to one to five days.
Ruppersberger said in his email to DeJoy that some area residents have gone weeks without receiving mail and that “I have been trying to no avail to get straight answers from our local USPS leadership.”
Among those complaining is Phil Tirabassi, owner of Advance Realty Direct, a Dundalk real estate brokerage.
“Prior to this year, I had never been late on a bill in 16 years of owning this office,” he said Wednesday.
He said mail delays have changed that.
“It’s straining me and my business, and everybody I do business with,” he said. “I went from a five-star client to somebody who doesn’t pay their bills.”
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Kirby Lohff, who runs Shoe City’s e-commerce and distribution center, said he had been using USPS Priority Mail to deliver tens of thousands of packages a year.
But he said the Baltimore company is transitioning to United Parcel Service because of inconsistent deliveries and inadequate service.
“They don’t know that I’m leaving,” he said, “but they’ll find out in the next few weeks.”
Ruppersberger’s staff has been working with the Greater Baltimore Postal Customer Council, which acts as a liaison between the agency and customers.
His staff said it learned from a postal employee — it declined to name the worker — about alarming conditions at the Dundalk post office.
“Long lines and furious customers at this post office are the norm,” the congressman wrote in his email to the inspector general. “I have also received reports of unsanitary workplace conditions in this office leading to perishable mail being eaten by insects and rodents.”
The congressman posed a series of questions to DeJoy, including how many mail routes have vacancies and recent retention rates for Postal Service employees in the area. He requested responses by June 11.