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Mail delays — it’s the new normal



“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” is the U.S. Postal Service’s creed.

But many communities are concerned about delivery delays brought about by changes at the Postal Service.

Due to budget cuts, many services have been shuffled to larger post offices, or just closed altogether in smaller, rural communities.

“It’s gone to pot!” said Robert Watts, who lives near Canyon. “The rural people are hurt the most.”

Watts is a retired letter carrier, as was his father and brother.

For many years, Watts’ daughter would mail a Mother’s Day card on Friday from Hibbing and her mother would receive it on Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day.

This year her mother didn’t receive it until Monday.

“Mothers all over probably got their cards late this year,” Watts said.

According to Pete Nowacki, a spokesman for the United States Postal Service’s Minneapolis office, in January, operating window changes began in 320 processing facilities nationwide. These changes affected nearly every transportation, machine and employee schedule. The scope of the changes in an organization the size of the Postal Service has been enormous.

Changing service standards and right-sizing the Postal Service’s processing and retail infrastructure are aspects of a larger comprehensive plan designed to reduce overall operating costs by $20 billion by 2017, returning the Postal Service to financial stability and providing for investment in the future of the nation’s mail system, Nowacki said.

Since the Duluth processing facility began sending most of its outgoing mail to the Twin Cities for processing, as well as bumping its last mail pickup time from the evening to 3:15 p.m., Carlton County residents have noticed problems with late delivery of first-class items such as cards and bills, and second-class mail such as newspapers and magazines.

Another concern for rural residents is the delay of receiving medications on time through the USPS.

“Delivery standards for Priority Mail, package services and medicines are not impacted by these changes. Customers who order medications or merchandise for delivery should see the same service they always have,” Nowacki said.

Bill payments are getting to companies later, causing some customers to get put on cut-off lists, or receiving a second notice saying their bill was not paid yet because the payment hadn’t arrived in time.

There has been an uptick of calls at the Pine Journal office from customers who are getting their newspaper several days later than in the past.

Dave Johnson, a local landlord, had a renter mail him a rent payment from Carlton to Cloquet. Johnson received it eight days later.

Johnson’s accountant also mailed a bill from Duluth to the Moose Lake Water and Light Commission and when Johnson was informed that they did not receive the payment, he was put on the cut-off list for services.

By the time Johnson checked on his end for any mistakes and found none, he called the Commission back and they let him know his payment had just arrived … postmarked from Cincinnati, Ohio.

Nowacki said, “There should never be a circumstance under which mail is detained unnecessarily during processing or at the delivery office. Without review of the mail item, however, I cannot verify what may have gone wrong. This was an error on our part, as there is no good reason for the letter to be postmarked in Cincinnati. For that we apologize.”

Wrenshall resident Mark Thell is an elected supervisor on the Carlton County Soil and Water District Board.

Before the changes at the Duluth processing center, district staff would drop their mail in the post office on Thursday and it would be received in time for board members and partners to review before Monday’s board meeting.

Now items need to be mailed by Tuesday, which means important information is not always making it to members to be reviewed by the Monday meeting.

Thell, a farmer, also commented that he has experienced problems with delays for equipment parts being ordered through the mail.

“Now I have it shipped UPS or Speedee,” Thell said.

He has observed delays in service for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is required to use written contracts and often needs to send them through the mail.

The contracts used to take two or three days to get to the customer, then back to the agent. Now it takes one week to get to the customer which makes it difficult to complete contracts on deadline.

“What are we supposed to do, drive to St. Cloud just to get a signature?” Thell questioned.

The post office response to the current delivery time is: “The delivery standard for first-class mail is two to four days, depending on where it is sent. The delivery standard for advertising mail is five to eight days in the continental U.S. We constantly seek ways to improve service to customers and meet or exceed the standards that have been set,” Nowacki said,

“While we are generally very proud of the manner in which the mail is processed, it is disappointing to recognize and accept that sometimes, no matter how hard we try, errors and delays will occasionally occur.”

Duluth is more isolated, not like St. Cloud which is close to the cities, Watts observed, and that affects how long it takes for customers to get their mail.

“We are concerned about mail delays and ask that our customers report repeated incidents,” Nowacki said. “Isolated instances of delay are ordinarily caused by human error and very difficult to fix, whereas patterns of such irregularities usually indicate systemic deficiencies that we can locate and correct.”

In a Gallup poll released May 6, Americans rated satisfaction with their mail delivery at 90 percent, reinforcing the U.S. Postal Service’s No. 1 ranking among major government agencies in customer satisfaction.

“(Changes made at the Duluth processing facility are) a dirty shame, and was not thought out well,” Watts said.

“What has happened in the past 10 years has been a dramatic decline in mail volumes as more and more Americans communicate through electronic means (email, Facebook, electronic invoicing and tax filing, etc).

Single-piece stamped first-class mail -- the type you and I send when we pay our bills or send a birthday card -- has fallen by more than 60 percent. This decline hits the Postal Service two ways: There is far less mail to process and transport, leaving us with excess capacity in our processing facilities. It also means a steep falloff in revenue coming into the Postal Service. Like any successful organization, the Postal Service understands it must make operational changes to meet the changing needs of the American public. The fact is, there are now fewer letters. As the Postal Service is not supported by tax dollars for operations, improving efficiencies has become increasingly important,” Nowacki said.

Customers should report delivery issues by calling 1-800-275-8777 or going online at and providing as much detail as possible.