Not receiving mail for days at a time? You aren’t the only one. Out of the 42 readers who reached out to Wednesday Journal after an email inquiry about their U.S. Postal Service deliveries, 35 reported their mail delivery has been highly irregular and erratic.
“Last week we didn’t get mail for four days in a row,” said Liz Keys, of northeast Oak Park.
Mail delivery is a hot topic in Keys’ neck of Oak Park, with residents taking to social media to share their experiences; a Feb. 5 post about irregular deliveries in the Northeast Oak Park Community Group on Facebook has racked up over 60 comments.
“One thing that struck me is how variable it is,” Keys told Wednesday Journal, noting that many people are going days without receiving mail while others are getting theirs delivered daily.
If understaffed, Keys believes that the Oak Park post office should rotate mail carriers to share the burden of absent carriers.
Oak Park post office personnel, including Postmaster Keenia Thomas, could not provide comment to Wednesday Journal, as the Postal Service does not authorize employees to speak to the media. Sharrie Johnson, a media representative for the Postal Service, confirmed Oak Park was shorthanded and apologized for the disruption of services.
“We have experienced staff shortages at this location and are currently using available resources to match the workload created by the impacts of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic,” Johnson said.
The recent accumulation of snow has also challenged the Postal Service, according to Johnson, who asked that residents keep the path to their mailboxes clear.
“We appreciate the patience of our customers and the efforts of employees as conditions change on a day-to-day basis,” said Johnson, who encouraged residents experiencing delays to contact the Postal Service.
After not receiving mail for a few days, Victor Yipp went to the post office Monday, Feb. 8, to ask for his mail directly as he was expecting some important letters but was told it was already out with a carrier for delivery.
“We didn’t receive our mail later Monday; nor did we receive our mail on Tuesday,” said Yipp.
He returned to the post office on Wednesday, Feb. 10, where he explained his situation and was told it was out for delivery. Later that afternoon, he received a large stack of accumulated mail.
Yipp told Wednesday Journal he and his wife Iris sympathize with the plight of post office workers but would appreciate notice from the post office regarding delays.
The delay between delivery and time of mailing has presented issues for local interior designer Becky Brofman. A fabric sample sent Jan. 27 didn’t make it to Brofman until Feb. 11, after the reservation period for yardage had ended.
“Fortunately, the manufacturer has more, otherwise my client would have been out of luck,” said Brofman.
She and her husband, a physician, used to receive “gobs of mail” delivered daily but in the last two weeks they have gone at least three days without delivery.
While the consequences of the fabric sample’s late delivery were luckily averted, Brofman understands that the impacts of irregular mail distribution could be far greater for others.
“This isn’t life or death for me, but for others expecting checks, medication, supplies – it could be,” she said.
Another issue regarding mail, according to Brofman, is service at the main Oak Park post office on Lake Street.
“I waited over 30 minutes in line last week,” said Brofman. “There were two attendants, but not the whole time.”
Brofman also said the post office’s self-service kiosk, which she prefers to use to minimize contact with other people, was out of commission. After waiting in line, Brofman’s trip to the post office brightened.
“I will say that the woman who waited on me was very efficient and pleasant,” she said.
Heather Cianciolo, of northwest Oak Park, told Wednesday Journal that her mail delivery problems had ramped up in last the few weeks.
“I got a notification that the post office couldn’t deliver a package because ‘The address was inaccessible,’” Cianciolo said. “I knew that was false. I’d spent hours that weekend clearing the snow, and the walkway and sidewalk were both cleared and dry all the way to the corner.”
While she said she understands the impacts of inclement weather, COVID-19 and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s controversial plans to restructure the Postal Service have on delivery, Cianciolo has written to U.S. Rep. Danny Davis in the hopes that Congress will fix delivery issues nationwide. Davis’s district includes Oak Park, River Forest, swaths of the West Side and western suburbs.
“Our postal service is essential, and they need help,” Cianciolo said.
The problem of late mail extends far beyond Oak Park, according to Davis
“It’s pretty much across the board,” said Davis, who added he has been receiving complaints about late mail throughout his district, which encompasses much of Chicago’s West Side, as well as Oak Park and River Forest.
Davis told Wednesday Journal he has been studying Postal Service operations for decades. Long before his political career began, Davis worked as a postal clerk. As a congressman, Davis chaired the Congressional Postal Caucus and recently got back on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. The committee’s purview includes the Postal Service.
The root of the delivery problem, exacerbated by COVID-19 and poor weather, has been the efforts to privatize the Postal Service, beginning with the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, according to Davis.
“That essentially said that the postal service had to be self-sufficient,” said Davis. “The services had to pay for the operation.”
Since then, different entities have chipped away at the postal service by privatizing parts of its operations. The most recent efforts, according to Davis, were made during President Donald Trump’s term.
“He really tried to gum up the works,” said Davis, who is meeting with Chicago Postmaster Wanda Prater and postal union representatives Feb. 16 to review operations.
Davis doesn’t think “there’s any doubt” about the Postal Service not having enough staff, particularly carriers – a job opportunity for those willing to brave extreme temperatures.
“Anybody that would like a job right now, if they are in pretty good physical condition and can read and write and want to work,” said Davis, “they can go to the post office, fill out an application and more than likely get a job.”
Oak Park resident and political science professor Joel Ostrow stated that some of the delivery issues faced by the postal service, which he called the “most trusted institution” in the United States, could be addressed simply by tweaking starting points.
If a carrier was unable to complete his or her route the day before due to poor weather or some other circumstance, the carrier should begin by delivering mail to the households he or she missed.
“What seems to happen, though, is the next day, the postmaster sends the carrier out to the same starting point,” said Ostrow. “Some people are getting their mail every day and the rest of the route isn’t getting their mail at all.”