John Graham, letter carrier with the USPS delivers mail on Ray St. in Portland on Dec. 9. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

SCARBOROUGH — Numerous residents in a number of southern Maine communities have been struggling with inconsistent mail delivery. Some Mainers say they have not received mail for days or even weeks.

Many  customers have become frustrated with the lack of communication from the postal service as well as being concerned about not being able to pay bills on time. Some residents have had to go to the Forest Avenue location in Portland to collect the letters in person that have been sitting around waiting to be delivered. 

According to Stephen Doherty, the strategic communications specialist with the United States Postal Service, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to present challenges, impacting employee availability and the ability to deliver mail in a timely manner. More specifically, the disruptions in mail delivery have been attributed to a staffing shortage due to holiday vacations, a COVID outbreak in the Portland post office that affected 15 carriers, and retirements have reduced the number of carriers working out of the Portland office, this has led to 55 less workers, Doherty said. The Portland post office serves Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Westbrook, Portland, South Portland, and Cumberland Foreside.

The USPS continues to thank their customers for their understanding and continued support, he said.

As we move past these short-term employee availability issues, we will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal to assure that our Maine customers get the kind of First-Class service that they’ve come to expect and deserve,” Doherty said. “Once again, we appreciate customers’ patience and understanding and we’re proud of our more than 650,000 employees who are working to deliver for our customers during the pandemic.”

Residents in Scarborough, Portland, Cape Elizabeth, and Falmouth have all experienced similar delays of regular mail while still receiving packages on time. The U.S. Postal Service management in Portland issued an order in early December saying that package deliveries should be top priority over regular mail. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the postal service has seen a jump in package deliveries from 60 percent to 80 percent. 

Further impacting the timely delivery of regular mail, U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy issued new rules that prohibited postal workers from making late or extra trips. If an office runs late, under the rules, it will need to keep the mail for the next day to reduce transportation costs. 

Despite the restraints imposed by the pandemic, the Postal Service is coming off of a very successful holiday season,” Doherty said. “With recent investments in new machines, new facilities, people and new technologies, we’re poised to have an equally successful 2022.”

So far that’s not the case.

U.S. Congresswomen Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, sent out a release on Jan. 12 discussing the mail delays and has called for an investigation into the USPS policies that have been delaying mail service. Her office has been receiving several complaints from residents who have been experiencing mail delays or have not been delivered to at all, she said in a statement. Pingree said she has signed onto a resolution objecting to increased postage rates and policies instituted by U.S. Postal Services Postmaster General Louis DeJoy that are slowing down mail delivery. The resolution asks to put a stop to the policies made by DeJoy pending further investigation.

The mail delays are not just affecting Maine; several other states have been dealing with a similar issue due to the misguidedness of Postmaster DeJoy, according to Pingree.

“Every day my office receives dozens of complaints from constituents whose mail has been delayed or not delivered at all,” she said. “This is unacceptable, full stop. Louis DeJoy has implemented policies that are deliberately slowing down mail, eroding the integrity and reliability of the America’s beloved Postal Service.” 

U.S. Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, also issued a statement on Jan. 12 and calls on the USPS to improve the speed of mail delivery in Maine. Collins said she has written to DeJoy and asked him to explain the cause of mail delays in Maine as well as asking for answers to several other questions. 

“Mail service has become even more vital to our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to combat isolation and access a variety of goods and services without compromising customer safety,” Collins said. “I am extremely concerned about the deterioration of service reported by my constituents, as well as the apparent shortage of mail carriers and the lack of information about USPS plans to resolve this issue. Such poor service threatens to drive customers away from the Postal Service for their shipping needs, further exacerbating the USPS’s financial distress.” 

The postal service is taking several steps to improve the mail delivery, Doherty said.  

We have taken specific actions to continue service to our valued customers,” he said, “which includes continuing to fully authorize overtime to allow employees to work the time necessary to deliver mail, expanding mail deliveries to earlier in the morning, later in the evening, and on Sundays to ensure customers receive mail at the earliest date possible, using additional carriers from nearby offices, when necessary, to maintain mail deliveries by assessing daily needs and repositioning employees to where the mail volume is daily and hiring additional personnel.” 

“We currently have openings for 95 pre-career positions across the state of Maine,” Doherty said. “These include city and rural letter carriers and local window and distribution clerks as well as mail handlers and mail processing clerks to work in our distribution facilities. (People) can access these positions by visiting usps.com/careers and searching by state for open positions. New jobs are added to the site weekly.” 

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