Guest column: How the postal service is failing Minnesota

Published 8:45 pm Friday, March 15, 2024

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Guest column by Tina Smith

My mom was born in 1932 and grew up outside Bourbon, Indiana, a tiny town in the northern part of the state. Everyone knew everyone, and everyone read the local paper, the Bourbon News-Mirror, which they fondly nicknamed “The Bourbon Blab.” Throughout her life, no matter where she lived, from Ohio to Alaska, California and New Mexico, she always made sure she got that local paper in the mail. These weren’t just headlines; they were the stories of her friends, their children and grandchildren, and the issues that connected them all.

Tina Smith

I believe every Minnesotan should be able to count on the same dependable mail service my mom had. But today, dependable delivery — affecting far more than just newspapers — is increasingly unreliable, as the U.S. Postal Service faces a crisis of delayed deliveries, overworked carriers and a concerning lack of transparency.

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What does this mean for Minnesotans? Critical medications, paychecks and bills are delayed. Rural communities are hit especially hard, as rural mail carriers struggle to deliver an influx of packages from Amazon and other retailers while getting regular mail to people on time. For mail carriers servicing rural communities, this often means longer hours, wear and tear on their personal vehicles, and even delivery routes that extend past midnight. I’ve heard countless stories from postal workers who are struggling to handle the physical and emotional stress, and some are even retiring early.

The stories from Minnesotans are alarming. Residents waiting weeks for mail, career mail carriers quitting because of bad working conditions, and in Bemidji, the fire marshal had to intervene because of a dangerous pileup of packages at the post office. These are not isolated incidents; they paint a picture of systemic problems with serious consequences for Minnesotans.

But here’s the other problem. Despite these legitimate complaints, the response from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and USPS leadership has been inadequate. They have dismissed our concerns, offered vague reassurances and told me and others that all is well. Hundreds of Minnesotans have contacted my office expressing their frustration, and I can promise you that all is not well.

The USPS inspector general recently completed an audit of operations in the St. Paul Processing and Distribution Center and south metro post offices. The audit found that what Minnesotans have been saying is accurate. It found that the post office is failing to meet basic service standards because of systemic understaffing, overwhelming package volume and an inability to track and report on what’s actually happening with service day by day. This is not a matter of perception, it’s reality. I’ve asked the inspector general of the USPS to complete an audit of the full Minnesota-North Dakota District, which should be completed later this spring.

In the Senate, I’ve teamed up with Sen. Amy Klobuchar to introduce the Postal Delivery Accountability Act, which Rep. Angie Craig from Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District first authored and introduced in the House. Our bill would bring much-needed accountability by requiring that the post office track delivery disruptions, so we have a clear picture of exactly what’s happening with service. We need better service from the post office, and our bill is an important step in getting us there.

We count on the hard-working people of the U.S. Postal Service to deliver our mail, but they do more than that. They may be the only person our elders in rural communities see every day. They connect people to their jobs, their paychecks, their medicines, their families and friends and their communities — just like my mother, who counted on the mail to deliver the Bourbon News-Mirror every week. Postal workers deserve to be respected and supported in their jobs by management that makes sure they have the tools and resources they need. Postal service is a part of the very fabric of our communities. It connects rural residents, ensures timely delivery and is the thread that links our communities and businesses to essential goods and services.

It’s time for the postmaster general and the USPS to listen to the voices of Minnesotans, acknowledge the crisis and work collaboratively towards delivering on their core mission: serving the public with reliability and respect. Our communities depend on it.

Tina Smith, D-Minnesota, is a U.S. senator.