Rep. Peter Lyford received a stack of mail at his Eddington home Tuesday. The stack was larger than usual, though, because it was the first mail delivery he had received in three to four days.
The mail delivery lapse is something the Republican lawmaker has heard about in recent days from constituents across his district, which covers Eddington, Clifton, Holden, Veazie and part of Brewer.
And the delays in those towns are far from the only ones Maine residents have reported in recent weeks. The delays prompted a letter from Sen. Susan Collins on Tuesday expressing her concerns to Postmaster General Louis Dejoy and asking the postal service for more information on staffing shortages and plans to address them.
Officials with the U.S. Postal Service’s Northern New England district told Collins’ office that certain areas are receiving mail only once every three days due to a shortage of letter carriers while package deliveries are continuing daily. Collins told Dejoy that her office has heard from constituents in rural areas as well as more urban areas such as Bangor and Portland who have complained about “slow and sporadic delivery.”
“These reports are troubling, given the importance of mail delivery to a rural state like Maine,” she wrote after her office heard from dozens of constituents.
Mail delays and interruptions in the normal delivery schedule have been reported across the country, even following the end of a Christmas rush during which the postal service reportedly prioritized the delivery of packages over other parcels. The weather has been a common explanation for delays, but the consistent one has been a shortage of staff due to the spread of COVID-19.
Staffing shortages can easily cripple smaller post offices, and shortages in a variety of postal service jobs — including processing employees, mechanics who work on machinery and vehicles, truck drivers and retail clerks — all contribute to slower delivery, said Scott Adams, president of the Maine chapter of the American Postal Workers Union, which represents clerks, maintenance workers and vehicle services workers.
“Our COVID-related absences are a major disruption to our mission,” he said.
Not receiving mail isn’t a matter of life or death for Debra Walsh and her husband, who live in Clifton, but the couple worries about their neighbors who depend on the postal service to receive medications.
“People receive prescriptions by mail. Some still receive paper checks and other important documents by mail,” she said. “It’s unimaginable to think that the USPS is letting mail pile up, unsorted, until a carrier shows up to deliver it.”
Walsh and Lyford both contacted their local post office, and were told a shortage of employees had left no one to sort mail, then deliver it to surrounding communities. Lyford said delays caused by COVID-19 may be frustrating, but should probably be expected.
“These are unusual times that we have lived in for the last few years,” he said. “We’ll just have to accept that statement.”
The pandemic is the main culprit for the delays, according to postal service spokesperson Steve Doherty.
“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to present unprecedented challenges and occasionally impact employee availability,” he said. “We thank our customers for their understanding and continued support.”
The postal service has 95 openings in Maine for letter carriers, clerks, mail handlers and other positions, Doherty said.