116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — There have been a few too many days recently that Dale Todd has gone without receiving mail. But in his Wellington Heights neighborhood, the Cedar Rapids City Council member said a pattern began to emerge: His neighbors hadn’t been receiving mail, either, and constituents began to reach out.
“For some people, there are serious ramifications if they don’t receive their mail or a check when they are expecting them,” Todd said.
More U.S. Postal Service workers around the nation and in Iowa are falling ill as part of the current wave of COVID-19 cases, fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant, leaving fewer employees to distribute mail and delaying the delivery of checks, medications and other packages. But the latest surge is only worsening a trend some suggest started with changes to standards USPS approved in 2021, which created longer delivery windows for customers.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, appointed to lead the agency by the USPS Board of Governors during Donald Trump’s presidency, last year set in motion changes to USPS service standards. DeJoy’s 10-year austerity plan is intended to improve the agency’s financial sustainability and encompasses longer delivery time frames, reduced branch hours, consolidation and shutdowns of facilities and higher postage rates.
Where first-class mail — letters, packages and periodicals — previously took one to three days to deliver, they may take up to five days to deliver under the new standards. USPS had argued the additional days would allow for more mail to be delivered by surface transportation rather than more costly air transportation.
In Cedar Rapids, residents have taken to outlets such as Nextdoor, a social networking service for neighborhoods, to share that they haven’t been receiving their mail. Some have expressed gratitude for the postal workers trying to cover all the deliveries with fewer colleagues, instead pointing fingers at DeJoy.
Todd said he is “sympathetic” to these workforce issues, but the problems have gone on for some time. He urged more transparency from USPS and said the agency should have informed the public earlier this would be an ongoing challenge.
“When mail carriers are out at night with flashlights and you have residents of your district not getting their mail, then it is apparent there’s a breakdown in the system,” Todd said. “It’s not my job to point fingers, but this level of service is unacceptable. The post office needs to do better.”
As part of the strategic plan spearheaded by DeJoy, mail is handled through surface transfer centers. These private entities consolidate mail into containers, where Kimberly Karol, president of the Iowa Postal Workers Union, said they need to be filled to 100 percent capacity before they are sent out for delivery.
But Karol said postal workers and customers do not see the scans on a parcel until it goes out for delivery. It may appear as if mail is not moving during this time after USPS has turned it over to the center.
“It really gives the wrong impression to our customers as if we are sitting and holding it, and it’s not even in our custody any longer in most cases,” Karol said.
Karol, who works in Waterloo as a retail sales and service associate responsible for passports and claims, said Iowa began to experience the effects of these changes “almost immediately.” Cedar Rapids is not alone in experiencing delays.
There used to be a direct line for mail from Waterloo to Cedar Rapids, Karol said, but the network determining how mail moves within Iowa has changed. Now, mail goes to Des Moines and then moves to other parts of the state — fitting within the new service standards, but resulting in longer delivery times.
Routes are usually designed to be delivered in an eight-hour period, Karol said, but now carriers are sometimes called upon to carry their own route plus part of another route, if not a full additional route.
“That's an impossible task, so mail has to be curtailed and prioritized for the next day when we can't make deliveries,” Karol said.
She attributed the delays beyond what customers expect to the adjusted service standards, and said workers becoming ill or quarantining is further reducing staffing, which Karol said was already low before that.
“The employees are very dedicated to getting mail delivered, and we have grown up in a culture where we were socialized that every piece, every day had to be delivered,” Karol said. “So when we are not able to accomplish that — through no fault of the employee — it's demoralizing. We feel defeated.”
Postal employees know customers are depending on them, Karol said, so the service delays have been hard on the workers.
“We could have medicine, we could have money or financial instruments that (customers) need,” Karol said. “We don't know what we have, but we know that it's all important.”
To digitally preview your mail and manage packages you expect to arrive soon, go to informeddelivery.usps.com. You can also do this via the USPS mobile app.
Customers also may reach out to their local postal station or visit the website usps.com and click on “Contact us” at the bottom of the homepage, or use this direct web address: usps.force.com/emailus/s/.
For customer service, people may tweet @USPSHelp.
Mark Inglett, a strategic communications official with USPS, in a statement said local management is aware of delivery issues.
He said USPS appreciates “the patience of our customers and the efforts of employees during challenging times. Our workforce, like others, is not immune to the human impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“We will continue flexing our available resources to match the workload and we are proud of the efforts of postal employees as they define essential public service every day.”
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