Delawareans sound off on USPS’ 10-year plan

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In Delaware, responses to the postmaster general’s new 10-year plan for the U.S. Postal Service, released late last month, were mixed.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., is, for the most part, not a fan.

“The proposed 10-year plan that Postmaster General (Louis) DeJoy put out doesn’t meet my goals for the Postal Service,” he said.

“Overall, what this proposal means is fewer hours at postal offices, fewer postal districts, higher rates for postal service, not a significant expansion in terms of customer service and a substantial reduction in terms of first-class-postage delivery times,” Sen. Coons said.

But not everybody agreed.

“We’ll wait to see, but I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction, and the (National) Rural Letter Carriers’ Association does support this plan,” John Embleton, president of the Delaware Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, said last month.

“I think it seeks to reverse some of our financial losses, and it does give a clear path for the future,” he said.

Sen. Coons added, “It is not uniformly a bad idea. There are some ideas in there I can support.”

One example he brought up was a shift in the way the agency is currently required to fund its health care obligations.

“I do think eliminating the specific requirement that the Postal Service prefund all of its retiree health benefits is a step in the right direction,” Sen. Coons said.

Consolidation and reduced hours

One part of the plan the senator found particularly problematic was the consolidation of postal districts, which could result in the closure of many low-traffic branches.

“I would hate to see us consolidate low-traffic offices, even in a state like Delaware that is less rural than states like Montana, Wyoming or Nevada,” Sen. Coons said. “I know people from Delaware City, from Yorklyn, from Rocklyn, who really like getting postal service from a small office, where they know the folks who work there and where it’s convenient.”

He was also concerned about the plan to limit business hours at some post offices. At the branch in Milford, a few customers agreed with the senator’s criticisms.

“I don’t like it,” Ellendale’s Jackie Cox said of the plan, which she imagined would lead to the closure of her town’s post office.

Although she was using the Milford branch Monday because she happened to be in the area, if the office in Ellendale were to close, she would have to make the trip regularly.

Melissa Lomax, a USPS public relations specialist focused on the greater South Jersey area, said the branch closures and customer-service reductions will be minimal.

“We project that only a small percentage of our post offices will have hours modified, and only a small percentage of city stations and branches will qualify for consolidation,” she said. “While we remain committed to operating post offices in America’s communities across the country, we will align our retail footprint, hours and services to meet current and evolving customer demands.”

Ms. Lomax said that “in metropolitan areas that have multiple Postal Service retail facilities, we will evaluate our network of stations and branches and propose to consolidate certain low-traffic facilities where alternate facilities are available to serve customers.”

Others stopping by the Milford post office saw the consolidation as necessary for the survival of the financially embattled agency.

“I think that’s probably a good idea,” said Prime Hook Beach’s Richard Huffman. “We all have to make adjustments.”

Milford’s Vinny Monteleone was in the same boat.

“Use them or get rid of them,” he said.

Mr. Embleton essentially agreed when asked a similar question last month.

“People do find reduced hours to be an issue, but they need to utilize (post offices) to keep them going,” he said.

He also pointed out that rural letter carriers, defined as those who deliver mail by truck, carry out many post office functions anyway.

“We’re a post office on wheels,” he said. “The customers who live on a rural route can get almost anything done that they would normally do at the post office anyway.”

But for situations that would require a trip to the post office, Mr. Huffman wondered if the Milford location, which already gets a lot of traffic from surrounding towns, could handle more visitors.

“The parking is terrible,” he said.

Mr. Monteleone agreed that, if the consolidation does happen, the remaining post offices should be renovated to handle the increased capacity.

“They need to look at the buildings to see if they need to be added to, if they’re going to consolidate,” he said.

First-class mail

Another big issue Sen. Coons had with the plan was the loosening of standards for first-class mail and potential price increases for the service.

This would entail “lengthening the first-class-mail service standard from one-to-three days to one-to-five days and shifting to using surface transportation for about 40% of all first-class mail,” rather than planes, he said. “I’m not persuaded that we have to do that.”

But Mr. Embleton has been persuaded.

“We have relied heavily on air to transport our letters,” he said last month. “The Postal Service doesn’t own airplanes, so we have to rely on third parties.”

He said this practice has become even more expensive, as cargo space has become rarer, due to the booming e-commerce sector.

“Anytime you slow something down, people start to panic. But I think if they could look at this, they could see the benefits of that and the cost savings,” he said.

“This is just an avenue, I believe, to kind of strengthen our service standards to something we can depend on,” Mr. Embleton said. “We’ll know how long it takes, and it’s more in-house.”

Ms. Lomax said the agency has not met its first-class-mail targets in nearly a decade, due to both unrealistic service standards and a “lack of operational precision.”

“By adjusting first-class-mail service standards by one or two days for certain mail, we can move first-class mail from air transportation, which is costly and unreliable, to ground transportation,” she said. “This will improve the reliability and predictability of service for customers, while reducing expenses.”

Ms. Lomax said 61% of first-class mail won’t be affected.

“First-class mail traveling within a local area will continue to be delivered in two days, and most first-class mail — 70% — will continue to be delivered within three days,” she said.

Poor service

Ms. Cox wasn’t a fan of the plan.

“It’s taking long enough now,” she said of her own mail.

Mr. Huffman agreed. He had a situation where his Verizon cellphone service was cut in the middle of a vacation because a check arrived weeks behind schedule.

“My bank sent the check Feb. 23, and by March 12 or so, (Verizon) hadn’t received it yet,” he said.

Mr. Monteleone had experienced a similar issue with a package.

“I sent a package out to Canada. It took two months and one day to get there,” he said.

Sen. Coons said that although complaints about poor postal service in Delaware have decreased in recent months, they are far from a thing of the past.

“Things are less bad. They’re not yet back to what we have come to expect,” he said. “The number of complaints have come down, but I frankly think the number of our businesses and families that rely on first-class mail means that any reduction in service is not welcome.”

For some locals, the agency’s foibles have lessened their faith in the institution.

“Not to knock the (USPS), but I’m a little more friendly now toward UPS and FedEx,” Mr. Monteleone said.

He added that the internet can carry out many of the post office’s functions quickly and easily.

“If you do a lot of things online, like paying your bills and things, you don’t need the post office,” Mr. Monteleone said.

He’s happy with his current service but said that wasn’t the case a few months ago. He places responsibility for the agency’s deterioration in part on a hesitance to cut costs.

“I’m also an advocate for not having deliveries on Saturday,” he said. “I don’t see any need. I think you would save a lot of money, gas, vehicles and things like that.”

The Milford resident said he would also “start looking at retirements, pensions and unions to see how expensive that stuff is.”

Politics

But Mr. Monteleone said he believes the agency’s service issues are political, as well.

“I think the mail-in ballots were a bunch of malarkey,” he said, intentionally echoing President Joe Biden’s catchphrase. “I think it caused great stress on the postal system, and it took months for them to recover.”

But Sen. Coons places a lot of blame on the current postmaster general, who some deem responsible for the confusion and difficulty surrounding mail-in voting.

“We should … confirm the three nominees to the postal Board of Governors,” he said.

That board would have the power to fire Mr. DeJoy.

Sen. Coons said it’s “not likely” he would ever be able to trust Mr. DeJoy, given the 2020 mail-in-voting debacle. “I frankly think it’s time for a change.”