The Scarborough post office facility has received a new package sorter. Courtesy photo

Earlier this year, members of the Maine’s Congressional delegation sought answers regarding constituents’ complaints of increasing delays and disruptions with regular mail delivery in southern Maine.

In response, the United States Postal Service is accelerating the delivery of 137 new package sorting machines across the country to meet customer’s evolving mailing and shipping needs ahead of the 2022 holiday season. One of the new machines is now up and running in Scarborough.

Residents of Saco, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth and elsewhere had complained that regular mail was being delayed for days or going undelivered entirely, especially during the 2021 holiday season.

The U.S. Postal Service blamed high volumes of parcels during the holiday season and COVID-19 infections among letter carriers for the mail disruptions, according to a Jan. 12 Portland Press Herald article.

Unions representing postal workers pointed instead to a dwindling Postal Service workforce facing breakdown because of backbreaking work schedules.

“We’ve been short-staffed for years, and we’ve been on a downward spiral and asking postal management to start doing something,” said Mark Seitz, president of National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 92. “They want to blame it on coronavirus, but this started way before that.”

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This new machine is part of Delivering For America — or DFA — the USPS’ 10-year plan to achieve financial stability and service excellence, which includes $40 billion in new investments.

The need for such a plan, wrote USPS Postmaster General and CEO Louis DeJoy and Ron Bllom, the chair of the USPS Board of Governors in the DFA executive summary is, “our business and operating models are unsustainable and out of step with the changing needs of the nation and our customers. We have seen steep annual financial losses in the billions of dollars, unmet service performance goals, and less market relevancy as consumer behaviors have changed.”

According to the DFA, published March 23, 2021, the USPS is increasingly relying on package delivery for revenue. “Package revenue increased from $9.9 billion in FY2007 to $21.5 billion in FY2018, slowed to $22.8 billion in FY2019, and spiked to $28.5 billion during the pandemic year of FY2020.”

Because of  increasing reliance on package delivery, USPS officials say the new sorting machines are an integral part of the Delivering For America plan. According to the plan “as e-commerce grows, so does the package volume entered directly at last-mile delivery units. To help improve delivery efficiencies, we will deploy more automated package sorting equipment to our delivery units to support the growth in destination entry packages for businesses to connect to local communities.”

Since January of last year, USPS has added 270 new package sorting machines to the Postal Service network, increasing its package processing capacity to 60 million packages per day this holiday season.

“This newest machine is capable of sorting up to 6,700 parcels per day, increasing our current capacity going into the holiday season,” said U.S. Postal Service spokesman for the Northeast Region Steve Doherty. “It’s called a Single Induction Parcel Sorter (SIPS) and can be set up in a variety of configurations, allowing it to be installed in a footprint that won’t accommodate a larger parcel sorter.”

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However, in January Seitz told the Press Herald that lack of personnel is the real reason for mail delivery delays.

The workforce has fallen prey to years of understaffing and a two-tiered hiring system that pays new hires less and provides them fewer benefits than those given to veteran workers, he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the crisis, Seitz said. The Saco post office, which should have 45 carriers, was down to just 19. Many of those remaining were working overtime and were ready to quit, Seitz added.

During the 2021 holiday season, the Postal Service accepted more than 13.2 billion letters, cards, flats and packages for delivery, exceeding the 12.7 billion mark set during the 2020 holiday season, with an average of 2.7 days for mail to travel across the nation.

The Postal Service generally receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.

Portland Press Herald Staff Writer Peter McGuire contributed to this report.