Twenty to 30 Maine postal routes per day have gone without mail in recent weeks as the U.S. Postal Service deals with dozens of staff absences from COVID-19.
But the postal service has tried to reassign the employees it has available so Maine residents don’t go without mail for consecutive days.
That’s according to a Jan. 18 letter from the U.S. Postal Service to Maine Sen. Susan Collins that offers one of the first concrete pictures of how widespread mail delays have become in Maine as the postal service has dealt with hundreds of COVID-related employee absences.
The 20 to 30 routes going without deliveries represent up to 2.7 percent of the 1,098 delivery routes in the state.
Both of Maine’s U.S. senators have said they’re receiving a growing number of complaints from constituents about delivery lapses, and that the complaints have come from both rural and urban areas in the state.
Collins wrote to Postmaster General Louis Dejoy on Jan. 11 expressing concern after her office heard from dozens of constituents who didn’t get mail for extended periods. Sen. Angus King added his voice in a letter to Dejoy last week, telling the postal service it needed to fix the mail delays, especially as it’s tasked with delivering millions of at-home COVID-19 tests from the federal government.
Scott Slusher of the postal service’s government relations office told Collins that 159 of Maine’s 2,617 customer service employees, or 6.1 percent, were on leave due to COVID-19 as of Jan. 18.
Those positions must be held for the employees who are on leave under union contracts, Slusher said, which means “the necessary work must be absorbed by the remaining employees.”
In addition to cutting 20 to 30 mail routes either partially or completely each day, Slusher said, the postal service transfers employees to post offices hard hit by absences, brings employees in from other states and sends managers on delivery routes.
However, those transfers are not always possible in a rural state like Maine, where many post offices have no other employees available in a 50-mile radius.
The postal service hired 205 new employees in Maine in the last three months of last year though the applicant pool has been limited, Slusher said.