Mail delays in the Upper Valley linger well past the holidays

  • A U.S. postal worker delivers packages, boxes and letters Dec. 22 along her route in Chicago. Charles Rex Arbogast / AP FILE

Valley News
Published: 1/15/2021 4:13:41 PM

BETHEL, Vt. — On Monday, electrician Dave Eddy opened his mailbox to find a surprise: a bill he had sent to a customer on Dec. 11 had been returned as “undeliverable” a month later.

“I called the customer and the address was correct, so I’m trying to figure out what the heck is going on,” Eddy, owner of Dave Eddy Electric in Bethel, said Wednesday. He reached out to the White River Junction post office this week and learned there had been an issue with its mail sorting machine.

Though that answers one question, Eddy said the returned bill is just one of many problems he’s experienced with mail deliveries over the last month, which have affected when his customers get invoices and when he gets paid.

“It’s a lot of little things going on that add up,” he said.

His problem has been an increasingly common one across the Upper Valley. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, post offices across the country last year saw a large uptick in mail volume, according to an email from Steve Doherty, spokesman for the northeast region of the U.S. Postal Service. He attributed that partly to more people ordering supplies online to avoid store trips.

But that problem got worse during the holidays last month, when the postal service saw “historic” numbers of mail deliveries, followed by an “exceptional” number of post-holiday returns, he wrote. The national service saw more than 1 billion packages delivered throughout the holiday season, Doherty said.

He added that the impact of increased mail volumes was “amplified by employee availability challenges” amid the pandemic. He didn’t say how many employees have taken sick leave, but in a separate email in late December, Doherty wrote that the U.S. Postal Service, which has 644,000 employees nationwide, has had nearly 27,600 positive COVID-19 cases.

In the midst of the problem, Upper Valley residents, tradespeople and some town officials have felt the effects.

“We’re hearing a lot of anecdotal stories from people who haven’t gotten mail we’ve sent them,” said Grantham Town Clerk Ken Story. He added that the problem started around Thanksgiving and worsened with the holiday season. In one case, he said the town sent out a bill in early November to a New Jersey resident who owns property in Grantham, and he only recently received it.

For small business owners like Eddy, the mail issue has delayed their pay. He said the time it takes for a bill to get to a customer, for the customer to pay it and for Eddy to receive the money has increased. In one case, a customer sent a payment on Dec. 23 from Braintree, Vt., just over 10 miles away, and Eddy still hadn’t received it this week.

Eddy said he’s urged many customers to be willing to accept invoices via email, but for those who haven’t done so, he’s started delivering the invoices in person, which can cut into his work schedule.

“I had to hand-deliver invoices to customers today,” Eddy said Wednesday. “I didn’t make as much money as I should have.”

Andrea Thurber, office manager of Economy Sewer and Drain in Lebanon, said she’s had customers call her recently, saying that they haven’t received their plumbing bills. Thurber said she often has to resend bills and in some cases, pay extra to make sure the second one is sent via certified mail.

Others, like Melvin Pierce Jr. of Lebanon-based M E Pierce Plumbing and Heating, have faced similar disruptions. Pierce said he’s had difficulty with delays at the Lebanon Post Office lately and has started driving his invoices to the White River Junction post office before 5 p.m. just to know that they’ll get shipped that day.

“It looks to me like they need more help,” he said of the Lebanon office. “There’s no one out there.”

Pierce touched on something other Upper Valley residents have noticed as well: Post offices do not have enough employees to handle the influx in mail.

That may have been the case last week in Canaan, when the town post office closed down for a day and directed customers to Grafton. Town officials in Grafton sent out a statement to residents last week saying the sharing would stop as soon as “the regional office can get someone in to operate the Canaan office.”

Employees were working at the office on Wednesday but declined to elaborate on the reason for the temporary shutdown.

West Hartford resident Allen Guntz also said he noticed a staffing issue when he didn’t receive any mail during the first week of January, even though he was waiting on several holiday packages. When he finally spoke with his mail carrier, she told him she’d been out sick and when she returned, she had stayed out delivering mail until 10 p.m. due to the backlog of packages, he said.

“I can’t blame the carrier,” he said. “They’re overworked and there’s not enough people.”

Another West Hartford resident, Hans Mueller, said he experienced the same thing while his mail carrier was off work at the beginning of the month.

“We saw more and more red flags (on mailboxes) going up and staying up,” Mueller said, adding that he spoke with the carrier when she returned to work. “All of that mail had basically waited on her.”

Both Mueller and Guntz said Wednesday that their deliveries had returned to normal in the past week, but the experience was a telling one.

“The fact that the post office was unable to come up with a substitute gave me a glimpse of how thin the office is,” Mueller said.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.


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