Late mail problem gets attention of senators, members of Congress

Photo: The Associated Press

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WASHINGTON (WJLA) - Hundreds of residents across Washington, D.C. and Maryland haven't received their mail for days. Now senators and members of Congress are getting involved.

On Friday, a sharp-toned letter hit Postmaster General & CEO Patrick Donahue's own mailbox. Those involved in its drafting were: Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Congressman John Delaney (D-Md.), Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), and Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

"A plan must be in place to protect worker safety and ensure that no homes or businesses experience multiple-day delays. These service disruptions require explanation and, more importantly, an immediate resolution," the letter reads.

Starting last week, local mail carriers say management ordered them to clock-out by 6 p.m. sharp, "finished or not." The edict, which high-ranking USPS officials deny any knowledge of, resulted in hundreds of households, most at the end of mail routes, not receiving USPS deliveries for days on end.

“We have gotten an extraordinary number of complaints,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who heard from upset constituents primarily in Wards 2, 3 and 4.

Holmes Norton, a fixture in Congress since 1991, sits on the Subcommittee for Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service & The Census. The ten member delegation, consisting of seven Republicans and three Democrats, aims to modernize the USPS so it can thrive in the 21st Century.

"We need a hearing to straighten all this out, because this has gone from bad to worse," Del. Holmes Norton said with a stern look on her face.

In Nov. 2013, mail carrier Tyson Barnette, 26, was shot dead in the Prince George’s County community of Kentland. Barnette was working a new route, which kept him on the street until well after 7 p.m., more than two hours after sunset. Barnette's highly-publicized killing led Del. Holmes Norton to question the USPS' delivery policies.

In a Dec. 27, 2013 response to her many inquires, the Postal Service supplied the congresswoman with a four-page packet crammed with data and trends.

For instance, in 2009, the USPS' Capital District, which includes Washington, D.C., Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, employed 3,138 mail carriers, a figure that’s slid to 2,687 today --- a 14 percent decline in manpower.

Consequently, last year, 36.5 percent of Capital District carriers didn’t complete their routes by 6 p.m. In D.C. proper, the numbers were even worse, 39.1 percent of carriers worked late, trudging through streets, yards and sidewalks the dark.

While deep staffing cuts seem to be the obvious issue at hand, in its letter to Del. Holmes Norton, USPS management pointed the finger at about everything else: weather, traffic, mail processing problems, and carrier inexperience.

"I don't remember hearing these kinds of complaints during Snowmageddon," Del. Holmes Norton remarked. "They [USPS management] got to make sure the mail gets delivered before dark. They can't put letter carriers at risk, and they can't put mail delivery at risk."

Following additional delivery complaints in Pasadena, Baltimore, and Perry Hall, Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski sent her own letter to Postmaster Donahue, writing, “This is a very serious issue. Constituents report that they are waiting for prescription medications which are a week overdue. I am requesting that mail service resume immediately without delay.”

Although Congressman Chris Van Hollen was unavailable for comment Friday, his office told ABC7, Post Office executives held high-level meetings Thursday that resulted in local district managers being told to fix the problem immediately, adding residents should see a “meaningful difference today [Friday] or tomorrow [Saturday] at the latest.”

Still, residents like Diana Huffman aren't holding their breath. On Friday, the Bethesda resident received her first batch of mail in seven days --- three letters and a few magazines. In other words - a lot is still missing.

"People are not at all hopeful that this is going to be solved," Huffman said. “Now it’s the unknown. We know they’re not delivering mail, and we don’t know where it is. We’re getting fearful it could be in a dumpster.”

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