Delays in mail delivery raise concern over more than ballots | TheUnion.com
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Delays in mail delivery raise concern over more than ballots

Dennis Cassella said the delay in mail delivery became quite clear for him earlier this month, just days after the 73-year-old Grass Valley resident was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Cassella said he’d been taking medication that his doctor had prescribed to treat tremors before the Parkinson’s diagnosis, but stopped taking the medication and ordered a new prescription on Aug. 5.

But after a week of waiting for the medication, which typically took a day or two to receive, Cassella resorted to taking the prior prescription while waiting on the new one to be delivered.



“I had to go back and take the other medication, as I was getting anxious about the muscle spasms and so on,” he said. “I took it twice in the interim, while waiting for the new prescription to be filled.

“I called Optum (a mail-order prescription company) back because I hadn’t received it. They showed the prescription had been sent to Optum on Aug. 5. It was filled and sent on Aug. 6, but by Aug. 11 I still hadn’t received it. The post office hadn’t picked it up.”



More than a week later, Cassella finally had the new prescription filled as an emergency order and began taking the medication he was prescribed for Parkinson’s.

“They’re clearly slowing the mail down. If they saying they’re not … baloney,” Cassella said. “This is one of the government services that you’ve come to expect to have and depend on.

“When I called Optum, they said this was the seventh call that morning on this same issue. So it’s widespread.”

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who has come under intense scrutiny over sweeping policy changes at the U.S. Postal Service, faced new questions from legislators Monday on mounting problems at the agency as it prepares to deliver record numbers of ballots this fall as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Associated Press, he disputed reports that he has eliminated overtime for postal workers and said a Postal Service document outlining overtime restrictions was written by a mid-level manager. Last week, DeJoy said he was halting some of his operational changes “to avoid even the appearance of impact on election mail.” DeJoy refused to restore decommissioned mail-sorting machines and blue collection boxes, saying they are not needed. He also said he would continue policies limiting when mail can go out as well as a halting of late delivery trips, which postal workers have said contribute to delays.

a VITAL SERVICE

The United States Postal Service website states it provides “a vital service that is part of this nation’s critical infrastructure.”

In recent weeks, that infrastructure has shown some cracks.

North Lake Tahoe resident Tom Barker retired from the USPS seven years ago and reached out to The Union to raise concerns about the two-week closure of the Crystal Bay Post Office.

Barker said upon inquiring at the Incline Village Post Office, he discovered the office closed for the duration of its primary employee’s vacation. Throughout the time period in question, Barker said he continued to receive mail to his individual post office box.

“I wasn’t sure if there was a big threat of them closing the post office or drastically reducing hours,” Barker explained. “Rather than wait, I emailed and said this needs to be checked out.”

Upon further investigation and the eventual reopening of the Crystal Bay location, Barker said he believes the region’s delays in parcel deliveries are separate from changes the USPS is poised to undergo on a national level.

“I think there are two separate things going on. One thing is happening on a national level with the postmaster general,” Barker said, referring to recent changes DeJoy made since his appointment in June.

“I think this is a separate thing,” Barker said. “I think this is a local thing. I think the (local) postmaster really was stuck, ‘I have nobody to work here, now they’re not letting me do any overtime, so I have to take some action, so what I’m gonna do is close the Crystal Bay Post Office.’”

CHECK’S (LOST) IN THE MAIL

Alex Cheney, a 10-year resident of North Lake Tahoe, said he is used to receiving mail for other people because of the transient nature of the Tahoe community.

“I just got a refund check for a woman who lived here four years ago,” Cheney said. “Fortunately, I know her.”

Recently, however, Cheney called to inquire about the missing utility invoices he uses to balance his house’s budget with his roommates. Cheney said when he inquired about the parcels at the Truckee Post Office, they told him that his address was on the training route for new employees.

“It makes sense why I have a different mail person every other day,” Cheney said.

Cheney, who belongs to a home owners association, said the disconnect is not limited to incoming mail.

“I sent an HOA check via mail and it was lost,” Cheney said.

Cheney said he expects some delays and some losses with the USPS because of the human error factor in manually processing parcels, but is worried about how that may affect the upcoming presidential election.

“Nevada County announced that the ballot is coming in the mail,” Cheney said. “I don’t want a fraudulent election; I want something fair and I fear that may not be the case come November.”

DELAYS ‘NOT POLITICAL’

During Monday’s House Oversight Committee hearing on postal service operations and mail-in voting, DeJoy confirmed he donated $1.2 million to Trump in 2016. Combined with the president’s unfounded remarks on voter fraud via absentee ballots, the removal of thousands of blue mailboxes and the reduction of postal office hours struck fear in those hoping to avoid Election Day lines, particularly amid the pandemic.

King’s Beach’s Postmaster Josh Armstrong said his office was hiring to fill vacated positions and directed questions to the area office in Denver, Colorado. There, David Rupert, the manager of Western Area Corporate Communications, said the USPS was “fully committed to the election process.”

“There are not any delays in the current mail system that are political,” Rupert said.

He said the USPS will maintain its services throughout the fall.

“How many ballots do they think will be sent out and how many do they think will be sent back?” Rupert asked. “The postal service handles 460 million pieces of mail a day. That’s why a lot of this stuff I roll my eyes at.”

Rupert said he appreciates people’s concerns, but says the issue has been blown out of proportion and become politically charged.

“People hate bureaucracies, they hate the government, but they like the clerk at their local post office,” Rupert said. “We’re working through a crisis right now. We’re unable to give a local perspective.”

Postmasters in Grass Valley and Nevada City did not return calls seeking comment. Rupert said local postmasters are unavailable for comment because they must align their statement with the USPS as a whole.

“I can’t put Josh at odds with leadership because he could get fired,” Rupert said. “His job is to say nothing — just deliver the mail and I’ll deal with the heat.”

Rebecca O’Neil is a reporter for The Union. Contact her at roneil@theunion.com.

Editor Brian Hamilton contributed reporting.


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