By Brandon Fastman
This summer, Debbie Owens was tending to the unenviable task of settling her late mother-in-law’s estate. Because Owens lives in Hyattsville and her mother-in-law lived in Florida, she is dependent on the U.S. Postal Service for exchanging legal documents and personal effects. Things haven’t been going so well. She’s been putting up with late mail, mail improperly marked as delivered, and mail delivered to the wrong address. To top it all off, her husband’s supplies for his medical respiratory issues have also been lost in the mail.
Owens’ troubles coincide with local and national data suggesting a severe drop in the Postal Service’s efficiency beginning this June. At a time when package volume has sharply increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the mail delivery system has been hampered by well-publicized operational changes instituted by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who was appointed in May.
A spokesperson for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, whose district includes Hyattsville, stated to the Hyattsville Life & Times, “This summer, over 2,500 Fifth District residents have reached out to Congressman Hoyer’s office to express concern or share their thoughts about the United States Postal Service.” That is compared to “[fewer] than 20 pieces of correspondence about the Postal Service” in all of 2019.
Chillum resident Marsha Coleman has been hit with late fees for two bill payments that were never delivered, and she hasn’t received her vehicle registration which was supposedly sent from the Motor Vehicle Administration on June 6.
A mail carrier who delivers in Hyattsville and preferred to remain anonymous said he has regularly been putting in 10- to 11-hour work days, reporting at 6 a.m. and frequently not going home until 7 p.m.
One issue that has been getting a lot of attention in the national media is the dismantling of sorting machines at Postal Service plants. According to Ray Robinson, executive vice president for Local 140 of the American Postal Workers Union, four machines were decommissioned at the Capitol Heights plant, which serves the southern half of Maryland, including Hyattsville. Two were removed from the Brentwood plant in D.C.
According to the Postal Service, “Sorting machines for flats and letters are only used 1/3 of the available time. The Postal Service has always evaluated use of its equipment. Resources match volume requirements. Letter sorting and flat machines are only being used for about one-third, 32 and 38 percent, respectively, of their available machine hours. There is ample machine capacity to handle spikes in mail volume.”
Robinson, however, said that extra machines are necessary when one goes in for repairs or maintenance. According to the mail carrier who spoke to the Hyattsville Life & Times, late mail was caused by a machine being used to sort double its typical volume in early September.
The operational change that has been most harmful to Postal Service’s efficiency, according to Robinson, is the institution of tighter dispatch schedules for mail truck drivers. He explained that, at face value, it might make sense to keep the trucks moving on time, but in the past, drivers would not leave a plant until all of the day’s mail had arrived and was ready to load into trucks for delivery. When drivers leave for their routes at strict cutoff times, it actually causes delays because mail is left behind.
This assertion is supported by a report released by the office of Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) on Sept. 16. The report states, “On-time mail delivery fell abruptly following Postmaster General DeJoy’s July 2020 directives ordering operational changes to mail service and delivery. By the second week of August 2020, on-time delivery of First-Class mail nationwide had fallen nearly 10 percentage points compared to the week preceding the changes. This means approximately 85 million more deliveries were late in a single week, compared to what the late deliveries would have been that week under on-time delivery rates before the changes.”
Whether or not that is true, several federal judges have ruled that the Postal Service must treat all election mail as first-class or priority mail express. In a year when citizens may be afraid to risk exposure to COVID-19 by voting in person, there will likely be a spike in mail-in ballots.
Prince George’s County will set up secure drop-off locations across the county for residents who are concerned about mailing in their ballots. Voters can also drop off their ballots at the County Board of Elections. Early voting will be offered from Oct. 26 to Nov. 2. Election Day is Nov. 3.
According to Hyattsville City Clerk Laura Reams, “The Hyattsville Board of Supervisors of Elections is proceeding with planning an all Vote-by-Mail election for the next City election in May 2021. As part of the election process, the City will partner with the post office to ensure the City adheres to guidelines for using USPS’s official election mail program including the use of the intelligent mail barcode tracking program. The City will also utilize ballot drop boxes, drive through ballot drop offs, and an Election Day polling location for those who prefer not to mail their ballots.”