Dave Allender’s medication does not have to travel far. The retired therapist gets a prescription to fight an infection related to complications from his knee replacement sent from Auburn to his dirt-road home in Somerville every week, a distance of about 50 miles.
The refrigerated medication arrived on time until last week. Allender managed to get another shipment via courier and learned he was one of 10 people whose shipments from his provider were messed up that day. He tracked the original package and found it had been sent to Wells and Nashua, N.H., before heading back north.
“They said they’d never had that problem,” Allender said. “My medications are set on a daily basis to lower the infection rate, so it’s scary what would happen if I miss one.”
He is among the many Mainers who have seen medications, paychecks or bills delayed over the past few months after the U.S. Postal Service slowed operations due to cost-cutting measures under new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. During a congressional hearing Friday, DeJoy acknowledged that changes had led to delays and that fixing them would take weeks.
The Bangor Daily News recently filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Postal Service seeking information on average delivery times in the state and region that has not yet been returned. Local postal unions have spoken out against particular policy changes, but delays reported by Mainers do not appear to be linked to those specific incidents.
Earlier this month, the local postal union reported tens of thousands of letters delayed in southern Maine due to a new policy that did not allow trucks to wait to load mail, though the Postal Service disputed that figure.
This summer, two sorting machines were disassembled at the Scarborough processing center. One was moved to Hampden. Each machine can sort 36,000 letters hourly and the agency has cited decreased mail volume during the coronavirus pandemic. Postal workers, however, are worried about what could happen if volumes rise and are fighting the new overtime limits.
It is unclear how all of this relates to delays or even whether it does, but as attention around the arcane mail delivery process has heightened, many Mainers are reporting new issues.
Tom Sheffield of Wells, who once worked as a rural carrier, said he and his wife have struggled to get mail regularly since they moved from Scarborough to Wells a few months ago, despite updating their address for credit cards and bills and filling out a change of address form with the post office. A carpenter, Sheffield sends invoices to his clients once a project is done, but lately they have been arriving late or not at all.
“I’ve been doing this for 13 years, and I’ve never had a problem with the mail probably until the end of June,” he said. “When I send out mail to my clients, they’re not getting it, which means that I’m not getting paid.”
While Sheffield waits to get paid, Terri Libby of Milford has run into delays while paying bills. At the end of June, she put her car insurance bill in the mail a week before it was due, as she typically does. Usually, it arrives within four days, she said. This one did not arrive for a month.
Libby said she could not remember having a bill delayed like that before, but then noticed that her July credit card statement included a late fee because that payment arrived after the deadline too.
“It just caught me totally off-guard,” she said.
Facing backlash over delays, DeJoy said this week that he would hold off on further changes to the postal service until after the November election amid concerns that the delays would hinder mail-in and absentee voting. But he also said he would not roll back many changes, including the removal of some equipment.
All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation support additional funding for the postal service, which has faced financial difficulties for more than a decade and was hit hard by a decline in marketing mail due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But it is not clear that such funding will pass the Senate, where Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is one of only a few members of her party who supports it. For Maine residents whose mail has been delayed or interrupted, that raises concerns that problems will continue or worsen.
“We’ve just been very frustrated,” said Sheffield, the carpenter from Wells. “You know, we’re not even really getting junk mail.”