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Congress acts on postal problems

The front entrance of the Williston Post Office

Law intends to increase accountability, transparency at USPS

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

The postal delivery problems that have resurfaced in Williston in recent weeks have plagued communities nationwide for nearly two years — and have prompted an act of Congress. 

Signed into law in April, the Postal Service Reform Act of 2022 has a dual purpose of bringing the U.S. Post Office closer to financial sustainability and making the agency more transparent and accountable to the public. 

“We’ve seen a real escalation in complaints over the past year,” Rep. Peter Welch said. “It’s been incredibly frustrating for people.”

Williston retiree George Stief said nearly a week passed without mail delivery recently in the Taft Farms senior community. On top of that disappointment is a lack of communication from the post office about the extent of the issue and what to expect in the future. 

“I have not heard anything from anybody official,” Stief said. “For people such as myself who are retired and depend on the mail for medical deliveries and other important necessities, to not hear anything is just inexcusable.”

The Postal Service Reform Act creates a tool to give frustrated postal patrons like Stief a window into their local post office’s operations. It requires the Postal Service to create a website updated weekly that shows whether local post offices are meeting their six-day-a-week delivery standard. The tool will allow “comparisons of performance information … to performance information from previous time periods to facilitate identification of performance trends,” the Act states. “The website shall include … functionality to enable a user to search for performance information by street address, zip code or post office box.”

The postal service is required to solicit public input on the design of the website and maintain a public feedback tool to ensure the website is usable and understandable. It’s not clear when the website will be published.

“It’s a tool we hope will help, and I’ll be monitoring it,” Welch said.

Residents, of course, don’t need to go online to know that mail delivery is falling short of standards. Their empty mailboxes tell them that.

“I know the post office is having its problems with staffing, but for it to go on like this for this long is just not right,” said Strief. “Someone — or a number of people — are just plain dropping the ball.”

 The low rate of unemployment — which decreased to 2.5 percent in the most recent report from the Vermont Department of Labor — has hampered the Williston Post Office’s ability to fill out its staff, according to postal service Northeast region communications specialist Steve Doherty.

“There is still a gap between jobs available and the number of unemployed. The ratio is approximately 3 to 1 — for every three open jobs in Vermont, there is one person categorized as ‘unemployed,’” Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said. “(The) ratio highlights the tight labor market conditions and the need to increase the labor force to meet the current hiring needs of Vermont employers.”

Williston postal workers are working overtime, delivering earlier and later in the day and on weekends and employing managers as mail carriers, Doherty said. He urged anyone interested in working for the post office to visit www.usps.com/careers.

The federal legislation includes a provision to stabilize postal rates for local newspaper distribution and require a study of inefficiencies in the sorting and delivery of magazines and oversized envelopes. 

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