BENNINGTON — As cries of down postal routes and missed delivery days reach all the way to Washington, closer to home, Vermont News & Media, local and federal officials, and the Postal Service itself are working together to make sure that mail is making it to local mailboxes.
The Banner and its sister paper, the Brattleboro Reformer, announced this week its switch from home delivery carriers to the United States Postal Service.
Above and beyond the chagrin of losing another 20th-century staple — namely early morning delivery of their newspaper — local residents took the time to reach out to let us know that postal deliveries had again become unpredictable.
"Since the announcement we made earlier this week about moving the delivery of the newspapers to USPS mail, we received a slew of complaints from residents about mail delivery issues. Some range from weeks of nondelivery, to others who say the mail has not come daily for some time with no signs of improvement," said Jordan Brechenser, publisher of the Banner and its parent company, Vermont News & Media. "Since, I have been working with the Post Office, both locally and at the district level, to ensure they would be able to deliver our papers daily as agreed."
Brechenser said the media company's goal is to assist the USPS "with staffing issues to help facilitate not only the delivery of our papers to subscribers, but also the mail in general to the Bennington area residents."
One such partnership is that the USPS will have a hiring booth at this Saturday's New England Street Food Festival in Dummerston, Brechenser said; the event is sponsored by Vermont News & Media. He noted that there are already a batch of new Postal Service workers headed to help out in Bennington, and the Saturday event will hopefully add more to the other Post Offices with vacancies in Vermont; at the moment, there are 75 job openings, the USPS said Thursday.
"I'm told by the Post Office that they have a pipeline of 10 new delivery staff slated to join in the next 10 or so days. They anticipate the Bennington Post Office will be staffed up and able to provide regular delivery in the next few weeks," said Brechenser. "Our goal is to make this work for everyone involved and to get our papers out daily, as well as support our Postal Service in getting regular mail delivery to residents."
At the state level
State Sen. Dick Sears, who represents Bennington County, said he’s been hearing from constituents about issues for a while and has experienced problems himself.
“I got a lot of calls from folks in Bennington, particularly in the east end, west end and Pownal areas,” Sears said Friday.
Sears said his home in North Bennington had been hit by slowed service, as well.
“Lately, we have been getting mail four days a week, which is better than during the summer, when we were down to two or three days a week,” Sears said. “After receiving constituents’ complaints, I spoke to both Sen. Leahy’s and Congressman Welch’s offices about the problem. They were both sympathetic.”
Sears said the mail delivery had improved and been pretty good at the end of August and beginning of September; it became troublesome with the worldwide increase in package movement during the pandemic.
“Now it’s falling off again,” he said. “It’s frustrating; you count on your mail delivery.”
Sears said there are real-world implications to delayed mail delivery, including receiving bills late leading to late payments. “I’ve been doing more stuff online,” Sears noted.
On Friday afternoon, Sears said he hadn’t received mail for two days, having last received mail Tuesday. Sears said the North Bennington postmaster told him that it's a staffing issue.
“Basically, it appears there are only about five or six carriers for the rural areas of Bennington County. When one of them is out sick or takes a vacation, nobody replaces them.”
He, too, had heard that there were efforts to transfer people from other places in Vermont to Bennington County.
“The carriers are good people; it’s not their fault,” Sears said. “There’s just not enough of them.”
Congressman Welch says ...
Vermonters deserve an exceptional Postal Service in their community, one that can reliably provide critical services so many people rely on, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said in a statement on Friday.
"From sending and receiving checks, running businesses, and receiving prescriptions, a reduction in service standards can have an enormous impact on folks’ everyday lives, particularly in our rural communities," said Welch.
Welch added, "And right now communities like Bennington are experiencing the consequences of years of unnecessary financial obligations and restrictions imposed on the USPS, which has ultimately led to staffing shortages and a reduction of service standards. I’ll continue to advocate for resources for the USPS to ensure they can return to providing consistent exceptional service, and my office will continue to work with the USPS to address the concerns of constituents being affected by mail delivery issues across the state."
Welch is joining in supporting the Postal Service Reform Act, which addresses the finances and operations of the Postal Service.
In the last Congress, he co-sponsored the Delivering for America Act, which would have prohibited the USPS from implementing any changes to operations or the level of service it had in place on Jan. 1, 2020, until the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The bill would have also provided $25 billion in emergency funding to support the USPS. The bill passed the House, he said in an email, but was not taken up by the Senate.
Welch said he believes that to address the USPS's long-term financial stability, "it is time for Congress to rid the USPS of unnecessary obligations and restrictions, including the onerous pension prefunding requirements, and empower it to innovate. He’s a cosponsor of the USPS Fairness Act, which would remove these excessive constraints and provide the USPS with more flexibility to meet its obligations."
Sen. Leahy could not be reached for comment.
Vermont News & Media journalists Darren Marcy, Jim Therrien and Noah Hoffenberg contributed to this story.