The U.S. Senate is expected to take up legislation passed by the U.S. House to overhaul the Postal Service, which has struggled with finances and complaints about performance due to staffing challenges.
"It’s been a real problem," Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, said of complaints from around the state of declining performance by the U.S. Postal Service.
Welch was at the post office in Winooski Friday, cheering the passage in the U.S. House of the Postal Service Reform Act. Its changes include requiring six days a week of home delivery, creating an online portal to track performance, and handling retiree benefits in new ways to save billions a year.
That money, Welch said, could be redirected to attracting workers and upgrading equipment.
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“And let’s hope it translates pretty soon into better service and delivery for our citizens,” Welch said.
Welch noted many people receive needed medications through the mail and that businesses rely on good mail service to deliver products and catalogs to customers.
Welch said his office, as well as those of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, have received markedly higher numbers of complaints about mail service in recent weeks and months.
Amy Trela of Winooski said she is concerned the USPS is slipping.
"Very frustrating," Trela said of her mail service recently. "We get our mail about every other day. I can’t trust the mail that I put in my mailbox to be taken on time."
Irregular mail service has had a tangible impact on Trela, she told NECN Friday.
"I lost my food stamps because the recertification papers didn’t come in time, so I had to reapply," Trela said. "All because of the delay."
In a tweet Thursday, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, vowed swift discussion of the House-passed legislation.
The majority leader of the U.S. Senate wrote, "Passing the Postal Service Reform Act is one of the best steps we can take to strengthen one of our country’s most important institutions."
Scott Lasell, who represents Vermont members of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, cited staffing shortages as a key reason for service slippage. He described those shortages as "severe" and urged people to apply for open positions with the Postal Service.
A new hiring push, which a USPS representative in Vermont said follows a wave of retirements, is aimed at addressing the gaps.
In Vermont alone, there are roughly 100 available jobs, including in processing facilities in White River Junction and Essex Junction, where tens of thousands of pieces of mail can whiz through machines each hour.
"It’s a great career," said Ashley Hamilton, who is leading a Vermont hiring detail based out of the Postal Service processing facility on New England Drive in Essex Junction. "These jobs are helping everybody — not just the post office — but it’s helping the community. It’s getting the mail delivered and the packages delivered."
The U.S. Postal Service lists job openings online at https://about.usps.com/careers/
Hamilton said she is available to answer questions about Vermont positions and to provide assistance with certain recruiting steps such as signing up for an applicant profile using a computer lab at the site in Essex Junction. Call 802-872-2257 or email VTHiring@USPS.gov for more information, Hamilton said.
Between the push for job applicants and the work in Congress, Amy Trela said she is optimistic for improvements.
"I’ll keep my fingers crossed," Trela said.