Mail delays leave some Vermonters waiting days for packages, payments and medicine

Elizabeth Murray
Burlington Free Press

Williston resident Jane Rowe regularly dropped off letters at her local post office until November, when she noticed workers were struggling to keep up with the flow of letters and packages. 

At her own home, since October, she would often go up to three days without receiving anything. At least once, her mailbox remained empty for a whole week.

Rowe and others on Front Porch Forum reported getting mail once every three or four days, or sometimes once per week. She and others believe the Williston Post Office is severely understaffed, and report they've spoken to local postal employees who say that's the root of the problem.

Local post office employees declined to speak to the Free Press. 

The U.S. Post Office on Blair Park Road in Williston, as seen on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021.

Rowe began thinking about what she could individually do to help take some of the burden off post office employees and mail carriers. Several weeks ago, she began posting mail at different U.S. Post Office locations, and she started having packages delivered to her daughter's home in Essex Junction instead of her own home. 

"All of a sudden, it just occurred to me that I could do something to support them," Rowe said in an interview with the Burlington Free Press. 

Staffing issues within the U.S. Postal Service are a problem every holiday season, but they have been made worse this year by a national workforce shortage, according to U.S. Postal Service spokesman Stephen Doherty, who serves the Atlantic area and northeastern U.S. The uncertainty around mail delivery — and lack of proactive communication from the U.S. Postal Service — are the biggest concerns being voiced by residents.

"If we were to get mail every other day, and just know that's how it's going to be, I'd be personally fine with that," Rowe said. "It's the not knowing that's hard." 

Doherty failed to respond to follow-up questions by the time of publication about the extent of the issue in Vermont, whether local offices have been asked to prioritize certain types of deliveries, and whether members of the public have any recourse if they do not receive their mail.

Similar delivery issues have also popped up in South Burlington, according to Facebook posts on the SB VT Community Watch page

A sign that advertising that the U.S. Postal Service is hiring is displayed outside the office on Blair Park Road in Williston on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021.

'Honk if you're wondering where your mail is'

In November, Williston resident Amanda Raab placed a sign on her lawn facing Mountain View Road that says, "Honk if you're wondering where your mail is, too!" While few people have honked, she said she's had some community members approach her and express curiosity or share similar experiences.

Raab works at her father's small septic service business, J&A Pump and Motor Service, also located on the property. Payments from customers have been delayed, Raab said, but the business has remained unharmed so far. She said she knows other small businesses who rely on timely payment delivery through the mail.

"If that was my livelihood, in such a way that I relied heavily on customers paying promptly and getting their mail promptly, it definitely would have been disruptive," Raab said. "We are a small business here, and payments, checks, have been all delayed."

A sign outside Williston resident Amanda Raab's home on Mountain View Road says, "Honk if you're wondering where your mail is, too!" The sign is shown on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021.

Douglas Isham, a Williston small business owner, wrote on Front Porch Forum that his business relies on the consistency of the mail service. 

"I have to find other ways to have clients pay invoices as I can not receive payments in a timely basis because they are sitting at the Post Office waiting to be sorted," Isham wrote. 

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Raab has noticed that the U.S. Postal Service is delivering packages more promptly than mail, though they're also delayed. Some packages she's ordered through Amazon get listed as "lost" when typically they're just delayed or not yet sorted at the Williston post office, she said. 

According to Rowe, Williston post office workers have worked hard to serve customers while staffing has been low. She recalled one day when she called the Blair Park Road office to obtain a package that had not yet been delivered containing important medication for her dog. An hour later, Rowe said she received a call from the clerk, who had retrieved the package from the unsorted mail. 

"They're doing their best," Rowe said. "They're under a lot of stress."

How Postal Service, Vermont congressional delegation are responding

According to Doherty, the U.S. Postal Service is taking the following steps to ensure mail service continues: 

  • Hiring temporary employees to help with the holiday season.
  • Expanding deliveries to earlier in the morning and later in the evening. 
  • Expanding Sunday deliveries. 
  • Authorizing overtime as needed. 
  • Using additional personnel from nearby offices, when needed, to make deliveries. 
  • Continuing an aggressive campaign to hire permanent employees.

Several people who posted to Front Porch Forum about their mail delays said they had called one of Vermont's three federal elected officials. Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Rep. Peter Welch all sent statements to the Burlington Free Press saying they are aware of the situation and monitoring it closely. 

"I continue to hear about delays in communities throughout Vermont, including in Williston," Leahy wrote in a statement. "My staff have been following this problem closely, because I know how important timely mail delivery is to all Vermonters, especially those who rely on the mail for bills, medicine, and other critical needs."

Mail trucks are seen parked outside the U.S. Postal Service office on Blair Park Road in Williston on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021.

Leahy said a high number of positions appear to remain unfilled, especially in Williston. 

"Despite the tremendous efforts of current postal employees, they are unable to keep up with the demand, even before the holiday season begins," Leahy wrote. 

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Sanders' office said the senator has advocated for strengthening postal services and supports firing Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. 

“Vermonters understand the value of the U.S. Postal Service," said Kathryn Becker Van Haste, Sanders' state director. "Each year, our office gets thousands of messages from Vermonters who want to see their services strengthened and expanded."

Vermont’s congressional delegation, from left, Sens. Senators Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch listen to a question from an audience member during a town hall meeting at Hazen Union High School in Hardwick on Saturday, March 25, 2017.

Welch blamed the service issues on "years of unnecessary financial obligations and restrictions imposed on the USPS, which has ultimately led to staffing shortages and a reduction of service standards," as well as DeJoy's impact.

Welch said he'll continue to advocate for resources for the U.S. Postal Service and its workers and work to address Vermont constituents' concerns surrounding this issue.

"Vermonters deserve an exceptional Postal Service in their community, one that can dependably provide critical services that so many people rely on," Welch wrote in a statement. "From sending and receiving checks, running businesses, and receiving prescriptions, a reduction in service standards can have an enormous impact on people’s everyday lives, particularly in our rural communities."

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Contact Elizabeth Murray at 802-310-8585 or emurray@freepressmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizMurrayBFP.