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Overdue bills, late holiday cards and stale Christmas cookies: Postal Service still sorting through unprecedented backlog

Southeastern Connecticut residents are reporting package delays, overdue bills and medication refills, late holiday cards and stale Christmas cookies as the U.S. Postal Service continues to sort through an unprecedented volume of mail.

Dozens of people responded to a query from The Day asking about mail delays, detailing weekslong turnaround times for nonlocal mail — even for “2-Day priority” mail, which costs more to send. Many said their packages sat for weeks at the Postal Service’s distribution center in Springfield, Mass.

Packages from Connecticut typically are processed at the Springfield facility, which serves as a hub for New England and parts of New York. Whereas first-class mail — a letter with a stamp — is usually handled at the USPS facility in Hartford.

Gerard Massad received a package of Christmas cookies last week that his sister in Indiana sent to him in Montville on Dec. 11. After tasting one of the cookies in the package, which arrived Jan. 13 instead of the expected delivery date of Dec. 14, Massad deemed them still to be OK to eat despite their one-month delay.

Also on Dec. 11,  Robert Welt sent a package from Mystic to Coronado, Calif., paying for 2-day priority mail to ensure it got there quickly. The package arrived Jan. 11, he said, after tracking info showed it sat in Springfield from Dec. 12 to Jan. 8.

Welt said he has no complaints about local post office staff or letter carriers. "My concern is with mail, incoming and outgoing, especially packages, that have to go through out-of-state processing centers," he said.

Amy Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service, said in an email Friday that the Springfield facility, "like all other facilities around the nation, has experienced an unprecedented volume of packages as more people stay home and order online."

The coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented backlog in mail as more Americans have opted to shop online instead of going into stores, including leading up to the holidays. On top of that, more and more postal workers are becoming infected with COVID-19.

The Postal Service currently has more than 8,400 active COVID-19 cases, Gibbs said. As of last month, the agency, which has 644,000 employees nationwide, reported having about 27,600 total cases throughout the pandemic.

“Despite all these challenges we faced, this holiday season, our hard-working and dedicated employees put over one billion packages into customers' mailboxes. This was historic,” Gibbs said.

She noted the Postal Service’s “universal service obligation,” meaning “we do not have the flexibility other shippers may have in terms of volume control."

“In fact, other shippers rely on us to deliver their overflow,” she said. 

Russ Evans, president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 497 in Springfield, said mail volume at the facility was up 51% this past holiday season. In the month of December alone, he said, the facility processed five million parcels.

“The mail is still coming in at record breaking volume,” Evans said.

The union represents about 730 employees at the Springfield site including the clerks who process the mail, the maintenance department and those who truck the mail in and out of the facility. In total, 1,900 people are employed at the Springfield site, Evans said.

“People are still working 16 hours a day, seven days a week to get the mail out,” he said.

A separate facility set up in Springfield during the holidays to help sort through the volume is still up and running, he added. The Postal Service also hired hundreds of additional staff at the Springfield site to help manage the holiday rush, and has extended the contracts for these temporary employees, Gibbs said.

“They’re doing the best they can to get the mail out,” Evans, a 33-year employee of the Postal Service, said of his fellow postal workers. “Their dedication is second to none.”

j.bergman@theday.com

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