We've all read the headlines about the U.S. Postal Service. A ban on overtime by the new postmaster general; the removal of mail boxes and mail sorting machines; reports of delayed delivery from across the nation; concern about the post office's ability to meet what will likely be a huge volume of mail as voters concerned about the pandemic cast mail-in or absentee ballots.
Locally, we've been fielding calls from readers for several weeks now about papers not being delivered on time. We understand that can happen from time to time, especially with off-Cape readers. Usually, however, subscribers in Chatham, Harwich, Orleans and nearby towns receive their papers in a timely manner. Dozens of people haven't been getting papers on Thursdays, in some cases for weeks in a row. One reader said when he contacted his post office, he was told they were suspending delivery on Thursday — not good for citizens, nor for a weekly newspaper that relies on Thursday deliveries. When we approached the main post office in Chatham, we were told that they were short on staff and that every effort was being made to get the mail out on time, but they were overwhelmed by packages. Another source confirms that packages and extra mail have inundated local post offices this season due to more people, including those in summer homes, ordering from Amazon. A spokesman from the Postal Service's Northeast Area office in Boston said that area operations managers told him there were no backlogs.
Frankly, we're not sure who or what to believe. Clearly, the post office is dealing with significant issues beyond the local level. Those issues, however, are now apparently percolating down. For our readers, a delay in the arrival of their newspaper is a nuisance, not a life-or-death situation. There is, however, an economic impact on The Chronicle, potentially eroding our business at a time when it is already under siege due to the pandemic. Because of the ongoing uncertainty, we're going to continue allowing free access to our electronic edition, no longer because of the pandemic emergency but so that readers can more easily access the paper as they wait patiently for their print copy to arrive. And yet delivery delays, whether due to high volumes of mail or short staffing, could be a matter of life or death for many of our readers who rely on the post office to deliver medication and Social Security checks. And many will no doubt prefer to vote by mail this fall rather than in-person due to health concerns.
On Tuesday Postmaster General Louis DeJoy issued a statement assuring citizens that the Postal Service is “ready willing and able” to meet the election mail challenge. He said he was suspending reform initiatives that were seen as impacting deliveries until after the election. Post office hours won't change, processing equipment and mail boxes will remain in place and overtime will be approved “as needed.” On Oct. 1, he'll engage “standby resources” to satisfy demand (curiously, DeJoy has a financial stake in some of those “standby resources”). Forgive us for being skeptical, and we look forward to his upcoming Congressional testimony by the new postmaster general. We were encouraged by a New York Times op-ed Tuesday by a retired Postal Service regulator who argued that the agency has the capacity to meet the demands being put on it now and in the future, and that it needs the continuing support of the people, despite the president's outright lies about its finances and the security of voting by mail. For The Chronicle, the health of the Postal Service is directly tied to our economic survival. Just as it is to the survival of our democracy.