The Charlottesville area continues to experience problems with U.S. Postal Service mail delivery.
On social media sites and via neighborhood email listservs, area residents, particularly in eastern Albemarle County, recently have reported hearing different reasons for delays, including that carriers were sick, injured or on vacation and that backups were not available, or the carrier left their job and mail delivery would not restart until someone was hired.
Some residents said they had not received regular mail delivery in days, or even weeks.
The U.S. Postal Service, through its corporate communications, declined to be interviewed for this article, but sent a statement that it knows that reliable and affordable mail service is “paramount to our customers and we take mail issues seriously.”
In the Ashcroft neighborhood, residents reported not getting mail, only Amazon packages, for a week.
Others in the Pantops area reported having received Informed Delivery notices — which provides a digital preview of incoming mail — but not receiving the mail shown until days later.
One resident commented on the social media website Nextdoor that they had not received any mail for 10 days and a magazine subscription was three months behind.
The Postal Service said it’s continuing to fully authorize overtime to allow employees to work the time necessary to deliver mail; has expanded mail deliveries to earlier in the morning, later in the evening and on Sundays to ensure customers receive mail at the earliest date possible; is using additional carriers from nearby offices, when necessary, to maintain mail deliveries; and is hiring additional personnel.
“This has been an extraordinary time of unprecedented challenges given the COVID-19 pandemic,” the agency said. “We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate customers’ patience and understanding and thank all our employees who continue to deliver for our customers during the pandemic.”
Community members have continued to reach out to elected officials about the ongoing issues.
“Not having timely access to bills, checks and medication is a serious problem that deserves swift action,” U.S. Rep. Bob Good, R-5th, said in an email. “My office has been in contact with USPS to monitor their response to the staffing issues in Charlottesville, and this week I took action and urged Gov. [Ralph] Northam to reverse his destructive policies and get Virginians back to work.”
In his letter to Northam, Good included a statement from USPS that said the agency has been “experiencing employee availability issues in our Charlottesville operation as a result of COVID-related absences.”
“We are holding mass hiring events and are working to provide employees from other offices within a 50-mile radius to assist in getting service in Charlottesville back to normal,” the statement said.
A USPS spokesperson did not elaborate on the “COVID-related absences” when asked.
On Friday, the Postal Service sent a news release regarding job fairs at the Charlottesville Post Office on U.S. 29 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday and Thursday. It is looking to hire city carrier assistants, starting at $18.01 an hour, and rural carrier associates starting at $19.06 an hour.
Over the last two weeks, USPS has posted job listings for various types of carrier positions at post offices in Charlottesville, Ruckersville, Crozet, Palmyra and Louisa.
“While the problems assailing USPS are many and complex, I believe that the increased unemployment insurance offered by the state further perpetuates the challenges that USPS faces,” Good said in his letter.
Northam and his staff have said that he does not plan to end a $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit earlier than its September expiration. Earlier this month, the state again began requiring unemployment recipients to show that they are applying for jobs on a weekly basis.
According to the Virginia Employment Commission, the filing week ending June 19 saw 16 initial unemployment insurance claims filed in Albemarle and 40 initial claims filed in Charlottesville. Albemarle had 232 continued claims filed that week, while Charlottesville had 375 continued claims.
Virginia’s U.S. senators, Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats, signed a joint letter to U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy earlier this year, where they decried the service standard and asked multiple questions about issues. DeJoy, who was appointed in May 2020, has faced criticism over USPS changes made last summer that many blame for widespread mail delay.
Kaine said they have not gotten a satisfactory response.
“I’ve been in the Senate for eight years and track very carefully constituent complaints,” he said. “There’s always some complaints about the post office, but it was at a fairly low level and a fairly predictable level up until the minute that the current postmaster general was installed in this position … From the minute that happened, the number of complaints that we received about the postal operation just started to go up like an elevator, and most of my colleagues say the same thing.”
Kaine said they’re working to create a better Board of Governors of the Postal Service. The board normally consists of up to nine governors appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, according to the USPS. Three new board members have been appointed this year.
“But we are assembling a better board of the postal office to either discipline or, or frankly, more likely, find a new postmaster general, because the service challenges are just unacceptable,” Kaine said.
DeJoy announced a 10-year plan “to achieve financial sustainability and service excellence” that includes postage price increases, slowing service standards and cutting post office hours.
Warner said his hope is that if there are not improvements in service that this new postal board will make a judgment that a new postmaster general is needed.
“The Post Office has got challenges, but these challenges seem to have only been exacerbated by what seems to be, at best, a very erratic business model put forward by Mr. DeJoy, frankly, that has lost a lot of people’s confidence, because it seemed that a lot of his actions, especially last fall, were geared at trying to slow down people’s ability to vote by mail,” he said.
Slow mail delivery, however, preceded the appointment of DeJoy and the onset of the pandemic. When the USPS signed on to deliver packages for Amazon several years ago, regular delivery started to suffer.