WSJ News Says Rural America Grows Weary of Waiting for Its Mail

WSJ News Says Rural America Grows Weary of Waiting for Its Mail wsjnewspaper

WSJ News said “Christmas cards began arriving in February,” said Ryan Hyland, town manager of Silverthorne, a town of 4,500 on Interstate 70. “But what’s not funny at all is driver’s licenses, disability payments, election ballots, prescriptions.”

Last month, seven Western Colorado towns and cities, led by Crested Butte, said they had banded together to hire lawyers to evaluate their options under the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, which requires the U.S. Postal Service to provide service across the nation. The lack of reliable mail service is increasingly prevalent in small towns and rural areas throughout the country.

The Postal Service declined to answer any questions this week but has previously cited trouble hiring staff as its primary problem across the country. Others familiar with the issue say a boom in e-commerce since the pandemic has also strained its staff. In many rural areas, USPS has agreements with Inc. and other carriers to provide the final phase of package delivery.

Many small towns haven’t traditionally had home delivery of mail or packages and residents in some must pay $70 to $170 annually for a post office box. But now they are having to wait in long lines in spaces often inundated with online deliveries, local leaders said. Private carriers such as FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc. sometimes deliver to homes and sometimes drop packages off at the post office as well, residents said to WSJ News.

WSJ News Said Mail-delivery Failures Have Made The News in Recent Months

USPS, which operates as an independent agency and is expected to support its operations, makes most of its money by selling postage but receives some funds from Congress. After years of falling revenue, it has implemented cost-cutting measures including using more private trucking operators.

This failures have made the news in cities such as Minot, N.D.; Billings, Mont.; Clare, Iowa; North Apollo, Pa.; and Placerville, Calif. In Oak Ridge, Tenn., city council members spent a portion of a recent meeting giving residents instructions on how to handle utility bills not being delivered.

In Minnesota, Congresswoman Angie Craig, a Democrat whose district includes rural and suburban areas south of Minneapolis, launched a survey to understand the extent of mail problems there, after months of being inundated with complaints, she said. Within eight days she had received 3,361 responses citing everything from lost prescriptions to weekslong delivery delays. The state’s four Republican congress members have also demanded solutions from USPS, sending a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in January.

Vermont’s congressional delegation in December wrote to Mr. DeJoy about nonfunctioning mail-sorting equipment and increasingly serious issues with daily mail delivery. Democratic Sen. Peter Welch said in an interview this week that the USPS’s responses have lacked substantive answers to how such problems will be fixed. He called the situation now a “profound managerial failure” that could require states to join together to fight.

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“We are at our wits’ end trying to get the Postal Service to do its job,” he said to WSJ News. “Most of us are realizing it’s not just Vermont, it’s not just Colorado, it’s all across rural America.”

Nowhere are the staffing issues more pronounced than in mountain tourist towns, where the cost of living is high, workforce housing is scarce and hiring is a challenge across all industries.

State leaders, including Republican Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, have sought answers from USPS. After meeting with Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet last week, Mr. DeJoy issued a statement saying alleviating mail problems would require solutions from local leaders. Mr. DeJoy said to WSJ News in a news release. “The Postal Service can and will solve problems within our power, but local economic conditions are not among them,”

In a joint statement, the senators, both Democrats, called the postmaster’s responses unsatisfactory. Mr. DeJoy’s message also angered local leaders, who called it an excuse and spoke of their efforts to keep city services on track amid workforce challenges. The city manager said the city offered free ski passes as an incentive to fill the seats when Steamboat Springs was unable to get bus tickets. Silverthorne has offered to hire bonuses and help to find housing, Mr. Hyland said.

“If the postmaster is waiting for local economics to be in his favor, that’s not acceptable,”

The Postal Service doesn’t have pay differentials based on local cost of living, said Karl Hanlon, a lawyer representing several of the Colorado towns on the matter. Others who have studied USPS processes said its hiring is a lengthy bureaucratic process that can take up to two months.

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In Steamboat Springs, a large banner on the front of the post office says it is hiring and encourages applicants to apply at Maria Porter, a local human resources manager, said she has been trying to help her sister apply for a job there for more than a month but hasn’t been able to find postings for area openings.

In Crested Butte, local officials have for years tried to negotiate to get USPS to install parcel boxes, offering town property to do so, without success, said Town Manager Dara MacDonald. Some locals said they had paid children to wait in line for them at the office, which is only open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Some of the towns decided to partner after a meeting of the Colorado Association of Ski Towns earlier this winter, when a discussion intended to be about the industry quickly became about the inability of businesses to operate effectively without reliable mail or package deliveries, town leaders said.

“This is like a wildfire, and I’m not seeing regional or national Postal Service officials treating it like the disaster it is,”

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