It took seven days for the letter to travel a single mile.
By the time 73-year-old Loralea Anderson received her eye doctor’s referral for cataract surgery, she’d missed several appointment slots at Kaiser. At least it finally made it to her Campbell home. The same can’t be said for last month’s credit card statement.
“I thought it was really odd,” Anderson told San Jose Inside this morning. “I called my credit union, and they said they’ve been having issues, too, with missing payments.”
For several months now, residents in Campbell, Saratoga, Los Gatos, Sunnyvale and downtown San Jose have reported widespread lapses in postal service, from delivery delays to missing mail and letters sent to the wrong address. On NextDoor, Facebook and elsewhere online, scores of complaints describe how the ongoing complications have impacted elderly people who rely on mailed medications, businesses whose revenue depends on timely deliveries and residents awaiting IRS forms to file their taxes.
The problem escalated in Campbell to the point that Councilman Rich Waterman reportedly met with USPS officials and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto), whose district encompasses the West Valley town, asked Deputy Postmaster General Ronald A. Stroman to intervene in what she called “massive failures” in service.
“In my 27 years of service in Congress, I have never had such a drastic set of postal issues in any of the communities I represent,” she wrote. “That’s why this case is an urgent one and must be addressed with urgency.”
USPS spokesman Augustine Ruiz Jr. requested more details about the complaints before responding with comment. Since he has Presidents Day off, however, Ruiz said he probably won’t have anything to provide in the way of answers until later this week.
Complaints about the delivery problems have been cropping up on NextDoor.Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) attributed the service issues to an “experimental delivery system,” which reportedly changed carrier routes, prompted multiple resignations and left local post offices severely short-staffed.
“I’ll be working this week to get a functional postal delivery service that we are accustomed to getting,” he said. “As of right now, it sounds like a delivery system issue.”
Karen Black, a real estate agent who sends postcards to let people know about upcoming open houses, said a mailing she sent to about a thousand residents took five days to go from a printer in downtown Campbell to mailboxes less than a few miles away.
“I didn’t experience it myself until last week,” she said. “And as soon as I posted about it on NextDoor, the mailman happened to arrive. So I went out and talked to him and he said he’d been on vacation and they didn’t have anyone to staff his route for him. I guess they’re having a hard time hiring enough people.”
Joe Tseng, a Campbell resident who got no service at all from Feb. 4 to 11, described in a Facebook post how he’s also received other people’s mail and had to deliver it himself.
Meanwhile, he added, online tracking service by UPS, FedEx and Amazon have been reporting packages as delivered even when they arrive days late or not at all. When he inquired about the problems, he said USPS officials traced them back to a pilot program that rolled out last fall to save the agency money after years of declining revenues.
“This is a [Town] of Campbell issue and happening all over the city,” he wrote on the social networking site. “Late mail, lost mail with personal tax and Social Security data during tax season going to strangers is truly unacceptable.”
Anderson, who plans to file a formal complaint with the USPS, said she’s worried about how the service lapses will impact the upcoming March 3 primary.
As part of an effort to make voting more convenient, the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters mailed ballots to every registered voter in its jurisdiction. Anderson said she hopes election officials reach out to residents in Campbell and any other areas impacted by the USPS service problems to make sure that people are getting their election materials.
The 245-year-old USPS receives no taxpayer money because it relies instead on service and sales revenue. Yet the government-run corporation has experienced crippling financial losses for the better part of the past two decades, prompting calls for privatization from the right and for massive public reinvestment from across the aisle.
In 2006, the Republican-controlled Congress hamstrung the agency with the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which prevented the USPS from innovating beyond mail and package delivery and required it to pre-fund healthcare for future retirees. Despite delivering more packages than ever before, the USPS hemorrhaged money for years in no small part because of that mandate.
Earlier this month, after years of bipartisan efforts to repeal it, the House finally voted to end the controversial $5.5 billion-a-year healthcare payments. USPS administrators applauded the vote as a critical first step toward stabilizing the agency.
In a recently released five-year strategic plan, the USPS said it can regain its financial footing within five years with internal changes and legislative reforms. The blueprint for future growth details how the agency plans to orient more of its business toward e-commerce delivery, new digital services and expanded use of 24-hour self-help kiosks.
“The most significant issue facing the Postal Service today is that our business model is unsustainable,” Postmaster General Megan Brennan and USPS Board of Governors Chairman Robert Duncan wrote in a joint letter introducing the business plan. “This is due to increasingly conflicting mandates to be self-funding, compete for customers, and meet universal service obligations under highly regulated and legislated constraints.”
Despite its hardships, the USPS remains one of the nation’s largest employers, with 634,000 career and contract workers, boasts the largest delivery reach compared to its private-sector counterparts and polls as one of America’s favorite federal agencies.