Maryland congressional Democrats called on U.S. Postal Service leaders Thursday morning to do something to improve mail delivery amid a flood of constituent concerns about delays.
The state delegation, led by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, sent a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, urging him to walk back the cost-cutting measures that brought mail delivery problems into the headlines several times over the past year.
“Recently, our offices have received a significant increase in complaints from constituents who have gone weeks without receiving mail, similar to the surge of complaints we received last summer in the wake of USPS cuts and policy changes,” the letter reads.
The senator’s office has received more than 200 messages from constituents about Postal Service issues so far this year, a spokeswoman said.
“Based on the reports and information we have received, these delays appear to be the result of delayed processing times and staff shortages,” Van Hollen wrote.
Prescription medications, gifts and bills are still stuck in a clogged postal system, Van Hollen said, more than a month after the Postal Service cited a historic deluge of holiday mail as the reason for widespread delays.
A Postal Service spokeswoman the said it remains burdened by “employee shortages due to the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases, winter storms in the Northeast, as well as ongoing capacity challenges with airlifts and trucking for moving historic volumes of mail.”
The Postal Service delivered a record 1.1 billion packages this holiday season, said Freda Sauter, a spokeswoman for the agency.
“The holiday inventory continues to drop and the Postal Service appreciates customers’ understanding and patience as service standards continue to return to normal in most areas,” Sauter wrote in an email.
The Maryland delegation’s Thursday’s letter was not signed by Republican Rep. Andy Harris. Harris did, however, sign onto another letter from the delegation to the Baltimore district manager for the U.S. Postal Service, asking for answers about the volume of backlogged mail and when it’s expected to be cleared.
One Maryland entrepreneur reached out to Van Hollen’s office to say that current mail delays, coupled with the pandemic, could spell the end of their business.
“We currently have 49 orders that are in limbo with the United States Postal System,” the constituent said, according to Van Hollen’s letter. “I check the tracking numbers multiple times a day but they are not even updating and some have been sitting since December 1.”
Another constituent reached out to say their medications took three weeks to arrive. Another said they’d incurred late fees for bills that were paid on time but got stuck in the mail, damaging their credit score, the letter reads.
From postal clerk Courtney Jenkins’ perspective, things have improved since the holidays, when mail was piled high at the Postal Service facility in Linthicum, but the difficulties of working during the pandemic remain.
“It definitely looks like a lot less mail than Christmastime, that’s for sure,” said Jenkins, the director of organization and legislation for Local 181 of the American Postal Workers Union. “Of course there are staffing issues due to COVID. ... But on the ground level, we just have been moving the mail.”
There have been additional COVID-19 cases in his workplace since the holiday season, Jenkins said, but postal workers feel the pressure of public outcry.
“This isn’t normal for the Postal Service, you know?” he said. “And I think that’s part of why the frustration is so strong.”
As part of their letter, the congressmen opposed any further cuts to the Postal Service, and called for DeJoy to “return to the 2012 service standards, which would reinstate overnight delivery or shorten delivery time by a day.”
The letter also calls on the Postal Service to use a $10 billion grant from Congress to improve service and minimize delays.
“Please detail how the USPS plans to use this funding by February 28th,” the letter reads.
DeJoy, a Trump loyalist, initially attracted controversy over the summer, when he sped removal of equipment such as mail sorting machines and collection boxes, slashed overtime and reduced early-morning and late-night deliveries.
Officials feared that the cutbacks, which DeJoy lauded as helping efficiency, could negatively affect the election, since many Americans were voting by mail due to the pandemic.
The courts stopped many of the changes, but a rush of holiday mail still caused a nationwide mail slowdown.
The Postal Service brought on 10,000 extra full-time staffers around the country during the peak season, Sauter said, and “fully utilized overtime.” It also extended leases on certain annexes to allow for more package processing.
Maryland Policy & Politics
An October report from the USPS Office of the Inspector General concluded that the implementation of DeJoy’s initiatives, combined with the pandemic, “negatively impacted the quality and timeliness of mail delivery nationally.”
“The Postal Service’s mail service performance significantly dropped beginning in July 2020, directly corresponding to implementation of the operational changes and initiatives,” the report read.
The Maryland delegation’s Thursday’s letter stopped short of calling for DeJoy’s resignation.
Last week, more than one congressional Democrat called on President Joe Biden to fire the U.S. Postal Service’s board of governors. The board selects the postmaster general, and could decide to appoint a new one.
“Through the devastating arson of the Trump regime, the USPS Board of Governors sat silent,” wrote Rep. Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat, in a letter to Biden, urging him to clean house.
Biden had pledged during his campaign to fill the several vacant seats on the board. If confirmed, the nominees would give Democrats the majority of appointments.
“We’re hoping that President Biden moves to a point, and fills the vacancies on the postal board of governors,” Jenkins said. “Because that’s similar to a private company’s board of directors. They kind of keep the postmaster in check.”