Lawmakers examine USPS safety, reliability issues at Philly hearing

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U.S. representatives participate in a hearing Wednesday, Sept. 7, about challenges facing the postal service.
Jack Tomczuk

Even amid a rise in mail theft and robberies targeting postal carriers, the U.S. Postal Service has decimated its internal police force and restricted their patrolling abilities, according to a law enforcement union leader.

That was among the main takeaways from a Congressional hearing held Wednesday at Temple University to examine the struggles facing the postal service — troubles that include stolen checks, delivery delays and post offices without accessible entrances.

Lawmakers indicated they may take information from the meeting to craft legislation in the coming months.

Representatives from the Philadelphia region, all of whom participated in the hearing, said they hear from residents about mail delivery issues on a near-constant basis.

“We have received more communications, whether mail, email, telephone calls or getting stopped on the street, about service issues over the last few years than any other issue my office has heard about,” said U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, whose district includes part of South Philadelphia and Delaware County.

U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle participates in a hearing Wednesday, Sept. 7, at Temple University. Jack Tomczuk

U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, of Philadelphia, said his office received 199 USPS-related complaints in 2020, up from 60 the previous year. The number of calls dropped to 147 in 2021, but is on pace to surpass 200 this year, he added.

Melinda Perez, from the USPS Inspector General’s Office, told lawmakers that Philadelphia was “hit especially hard” by delivery delays that occurred in the fall of 2020 but that service times have improved.

At one point last year, only 62% of envelopes that were supposed to arrive in Philadelphia within three-to-five days were showing up on time. The rate has since improved to around 90%, officials said.

Across Pennsylvania, the average piece of First Class mail is delivered in about two-and-a-half days, compared to around four days in January 2021, according to the postal service.

Staffing has continued to be an issue, local USPS district manager Gary Vaccarella said, though thousands of carrier assistants have been hired in the commonwealth over the past year.

The ranks of the postal police department, meanwhile, have dropped by 20% since 2020 and now number just 350 nationwide, said Frank Albergo, president of the Postal Police Officers Association.

Two years ago, USPS leaders reduced the police force’s jurisdiction, telling officers only to patrol facilities owned or leased by the postal service, said Albergo, who would like to see law enforcement accompanying carriers in robbery and theft hotspots.

“Postal crime has spiraled out of control,” he said, before commenting on the patrol changes: “I’m as confused as anybody else. It doesn’t make sense.”

Criminals have robbed carriers at gunpoint for “arrow keys,” which open blue mailboxes, and thieves have taken checks, “washed” them, and filled in different information.

Hundreds of thousands of mail theft complaints were lodged last year, and USPS officials said just over 1,200 people were convicted.

U.S. Rep. Gerald Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia, speaks to reporters following a hearing Wednesday, Sept. 7, at Temple University. Jack Tomczuk

U.S. Rep. Gerald Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia who chaired the hearing, noted how few cases are investigated and said: “We’re now approaching a point where this is a cost-free crime.”

Talk also focused on reports about a USPS plan to phase out 200 postal facilities, including possibly consolidating a dozen suburban sorting operations into a center in King of Prussia. Vaccarella said that change has not occurred.

The Congressional hearing was the third in a series of meetings held outside of Washington, D.C, about the postal service.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden signed legislation to relieve financial pressure on USPS, increase transparency and mandate the continuation of six-day service.

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