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CASEY: Are you getting regular mail deliveries in Roanoke region — or not?

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Election 2022 Postal Service

FILE - A USPS logo adorns the back doors of United States Postal Service delivery vehicles as they proceed westbound along 20th Street from Stout Street and the main post office in downtown Denver, Wednesday, June 1, 2022. 

What the heck is going on with mail delivery in the Roanoke region?

Linda Rood and many others in these parts are wondering. Lately they’ve noticed regular deliveries have been spotty, at best.

Rood lives in the Mountain View Terrace neighborhood, off Memorial Avenue in the city’s southwest quadrant. Most days, she gets no mail deliveries, despite a federal law requiring the United States Postal Service deliver six days per week. On other occasions, Rood gets a big pile.

Some days, no mail arrives at her home even after the U.S. Postal Service’s free email notification service (known as “Informed Delivery) has told Rood to expect some, and forwarded her photos of what’s coming. Those pieces often don’t arrive until days later, she said.

Marvin Harrison, who lives next to Rood on Oxford Avenue, said this has been happening “for months and months.”

“It’ll come some days, and it will be here at 9 a.m. in the morning, and then two to three days will go by and they’ll deliver at 8 p.m. at night,” Harrison told me.

I’ve been collecting similar complaints about spotty mail deliveries around Roanoke since Dianne Prout of Bonsack emailed me Oct. 4.

At that point, some residents of the Summerfield community of eastern Roanoke County had not received mail since Sept. 29, Prout said. The Postal Service was delivering packages — but not letters and bills to her street — Prout added.

The next complaint I heard about non-deliveries was across town in the city’s southwest quadrant. It was from Bill Hackworth, former city attorney for Roanoke.

“Since Friday, November 25, our neighborhood has only received mail three out of nine delivery days,” Hackworth wrote on Dec. 6. “No mail delivered here again today.”

More recently, it’s happened in Grandin Court where I live. On Jan. 11, our box was crammed with mail. At my next-door neighbor’s it was the same story. Both of us had received nothing for almost a week.

Thursday, I visited the Raleigh Court Post Office and waited in line to ask about it. I didn’t identify myself as an employee of The Roanoke Times.

“I’m here to find out why my mail is arriving in large batches,” I told the woman behind the counter. “Like, it’ll go three or four days and we won’t get anything, and then we’ll get a whole pile of mail. It’s happening to my neighbors, too. What’s the problem?”

The woman answered, “Because we’re short-handed.”

“Do you know when this is going to end?” I asked. She replied “No.” One customer in line behind me answered sarcastically, “Probably in five years.”

Later that afternoon, I posted an inquiry on a local Facebook group, Roanoke Checkpoint, Road Conditions, Hazards, Crimes, Lost/Stolen. As of Monday morning, it had attracted more than 60 comments from residents in all four of Roanoke’s quadrants, and from people in Roanoke, Bedford and Franklin counties as well.

Here are a few:

“Grandin Rd post office will not answer phone,” Ayme Gierchak replied. “We have been 4 days with no mail and when the mail truck is in the neighborhood we have seen it as late at 7:30 pm.”

“We get mail about 2 times a week,” replied Karrie Dawn Sanford, who lives in northeast Roanoke between Williamson and Plantation roads. “Our carrier said it’s due to staffing and the amount of packages as they come first, then mail and magazines.”

“It seems that they may forgo some routes some days if there isn’t a lot of mail for that route, especially if they’re short staffed,” replied Daniel Ralph of Vinton. “I’ve had days where we do not see the mail carrier at all through our neighborhood.”

“I live in [northeast Roanoke] this happens to us all the time,” wrote Leanor Bond Williams. “ I called the postmaster and he said they’re short of help. Like I got my internet bill [Jan. 19] it was due Jan 3.”

“We received mail 2 out of 6 days one week. I complained. Got a BS answer,” wrote Martin Morrison of Round Hill in Northwest Roanoke. “I had a customer send me a check last year, didn’t get it, kept fussing at the customer, he kept saying the check was mailed. It showed up 5 weeks later. Yes it was postmarked when he said it was.”

Some people, such as Paul Giordano of southwest Roanoke, opined that the Postal Service should curtail deliveries to five days per week. But that would violate the Postal Service Reform Act, which Congress approved last year.

The bipartisan law, which President Joe Biden signed April 6, requires six-day per week deliveries except under emergencies such as hurricanes and blizzards. One of the lawmakers who voted for it was Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.

“Our office has heard from many Virginians across the Commonwealth, including in Roanoke, about mail delays and concerns with the U.S. Postal Service,” a spokesperson for his Kaine told me.

Meanwhile, First Class postage increased from 58 to 60 cents in January 2022. This month, it increased again to 63 cents. It appears delivery service has worsened in the wake of those price increases.

On the Facebook post, some people replied they didn’t care if the Postal Service didn’t deliver six days per week. But sometimes, delayed deliveries have real-world consequences.

For example, consider Suzy Sciapli of Raleigh Court. She said she mailed her rent check Jan. 1 (a federal holiday). When it hadn’t made it to her landlord by Jan. 16, Sciapli paid her bank $35 to cancel the apparently lost check, and she wrote another.

Earlier, Sciapli noted, she “hadn’t gotten [December’s] water bill so I just started paperless auto pay for all bills that I can do it with.”

Last week I sent questions regarding this matter to Philip Bogenberger, a Postal Service spokesman. Here they are:

How many complaints of this nature from Roanoke area customers has USPS received since Oct. 1?

What is the cause?

Is USPS doing anything to alleviate it? If so, please share with me what USPS is doing?

Is this problem confined to Roanoke? Or Western Virginia? Or the East? Or is it a national problem?

How many job openings does USPS have in the Roanoke metro area?

Bogenberger replied, but he ignored most of those questions. One unaddressed one was how many missed delivery complaints the Postal Service has received from the Roanoke area since October. He did say they are trying to fill 20 positions here.

“Most post offices are adequately staffed and delivery routes are covered in the Roanoke area,” Bogenberger wrote back. “We have contingency plans when employees are on leave. Still, staffing challenges can arise, which has resulted in brief periods of sporadic mail delivery on a few routes. We thank customers for their continued support and understanding.”

Bogenberger said job candidates can apply online at usps.com/careers, or apply in person at a hiring fair. The next one, he added, is Wednesday, Jan. 25, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Virginia Career Works, 3601 Thirlane Road, Ste. 2.

Maybe that will help someone get a job, but it’s unclear whether that will alleviate recent delivery problems. That’s because USPS is cutting employees, rather than adding them.

At a speech in July to the American Enterprise Institute, postmaster Louis DeJoy said the Postal Service expects some 200,000 USPS employees to retire in the next several years, and that the organization expected to fill 150,000 of those positions.

That’s a net reduction of 50,000 employees, all through attrition. (At the end of 2021, the Postal Service had 517,000 employees.)

“Right now, to get to break even, I think we may need to get 50,000 people out of the organization,” DeJoy was quoted saying in Government Executive, a daily newsletter that covers the federal government’s departments and agencies.

How is a 10% reduction in the workforce going to solve postal-delivery problems in Roanoke?

Neither rain, nor snow, nor heat, nor gloom of night is the longtime unofficial post office motto but there's no mention of massive staffing shortages. 

Contact metro columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or dan.casey@roanoke.com. Follow him on Twitter:.

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Dan Casey knows a little bit about a lot of things but not a heck of a lot about most things. That doesn't keep him from writing about them, however. So keep him honest!

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