US Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-2, visited Dundalk on April 1 to address the lack of service from the Post Office and delivered a stern message – enough is enough.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, residents were complaining about subpar postal service. Residents reported going a day or longer without receiving mail. Today, in April 2021, residents are reporting going weeks – not several consecutive days – without receiving mail from the Post Office. Ruppersberger was joined at a press conference by Del. Ric Metzgar, R-6, Baltimore County Councilman Todd Crandell, R-7, and Pete Kriscumus, Baltimore County District 7 Outreach Coordinator.
“We are here today to talk about an issue that is prevalent all over the country,” Ruppersberger said while addressing constituents in front of the Dundalk Post Office. “But it is my opinion that in the district I represent, that this area is probably the worst that we have.
“Dundalk continues to have issues. We continue to get promises from the post office and at this point nothing has happened.”
Ruppersberger said that his office has received complaints from constituents about the Dundalk Post Office for the past 15 months, before the virus arrived in the US. Since that time, the complaints have increased, suggesting that the postal service in the area is worsening. Residents are reporting that they have gone as long as two weeks, a half-month, without receiving any mail. Older adults have issued complaints about not receiving bills on time, and their payments they mail in to bill collectors are not being received.
Ruppersberger did share a sense of optimism about the Baltimore area’s new postmaster. Ed Williamson recently took the position formerly held by Le Gretta Ross-Rawlins. Williamson has given assurance that the Dundalk Post Office is at the top of his priority list,” Ruppersberger said. Delivery workers could be assigned to this area until 100 percent service levels are achieved, he added.
“I was told staffing would be monitored more closely, and leadership changes could take place,” Ruppersberger said. “Postmaster Williamson was just appointed recently. He’s been cooperative with my office and very helpful with individual constituent complaints.
“But there are systemic issues that have existed for over a year. I think he’s been doing the best he can with the cards he’s been dealt. I think he needs help from the higher level and they need to assign more people to this area. The numbers are unacceptable.”
When asked if he would ask President Joe Biden, who oversees the branch of government which houses the United States Postal Service, would get involved, Ruppersberger said that Biden’s time is consumed by several things. It is his hope that Biden can get involved to help alleviate the problem, he added.
One older adult, Mike Persiani, said that his vehicle was one day from being repossessed and his cell phone service was close to being interrupted. He and his spouse do not use the internet to pay bills, he said. A retired mail carrier, Persiani said that he has become a victim of the place where he worked for so many years.
“We were getting no mail at all, and we, too, went two weeks without getting mail,” Persiani said.
When the mail issue was becoming noticeable, Persiani and his wife began investigating, he said. They found that, last March, a postal worker had tested positive for COVID-19, requiring other workers to not show up for work. Soon after, they began receiving mail once or twice a week, with the mail arriving as late as 8 p.m.
“I talk to people, because I’m a very active individual in the community,” Persiani said. “[Letter carriers] are from Perry Hall, or they’re from Loch Raven.”
Persiani said the problem became more than prevalent when his wife told him that they had not received any bills in the mail. Days later, he received an email from his cellular carrier telling him that his service would soon be interrupted due to lack of payment.
“My cell phone is paid through my credit card, and that means my credit card’s not …,” Persiani said. “I spent three days making phone calls, finding out that not only was the cell phone not being paid, none of my bills were being paid.
“We’re old school. We use the mail. We write checks, and everything goes out in the mail. The bills come back in the mail and we pay them.”
Persiani said he found out through his bank that not receiving mail and it leading to outstanding bills is a common complaint across the country. His bank went even further, he said, telling him how he can avoid late charges.
Also over that three-day span, Persiani had learned that his vehicle was about to be repossessed. He said he receives coupons regularly that he sends in with his vehicle payments, which come through the mail every three months. He called after not receiving a new supply of coupons, and learned that his lender had not received a payment from him in three months.
“We were one day from stopping repossession of the car,” Persiani said. “We made good on all of our bills. We had to cancel some of the checks, and the banks have worked with us. It’s taken us until now.”
Metzgar told constituents standing in front of the post office that he first received word about the Dundalk Post Office last May. His office began to do research and found that things were getting worse in June. He contacted Ruppersberger in July, he said, and proposed working together to rectify the problem.
“I’ve heard this saying for almost a year now – we are all in this together,” Metzgar said. “At this time, I am so sick of tired of hearing excuse after excuse after excuse.”
“You just heard the congressman say that enough is enough.”
Metzgar said that he learned recently that letter carriers were told by their union to stay home if they are feeling sick. He has made surprise visits to the Dundalk Post Office over the past year, he said, and management inside the post office appeared irritated each time. Metzgar also shared personal mail stories, saying that he received bills in January that were postmarked in November. He received a Christmas card recently that was also mailed in November, he said.
“We’re here to tell them that today is the last day,” Metzgar said. “The blame game has been going on for too long, and it’s time to eliminate the blame game and let’s work this thing and get the problem solved. That starts today.
“These late fees are an aggravation to our senior constituents. I know that millennials like to pay everything on email and through the phone. A lot of our [older adults] do not have access to those kinds of things, and we’re going to get this together.”
Metzgar said at the press conference that he is giving the Dundalk Post Office 60 days to fix its staffing issues and put letter carriers out consistently. If in 60 days that has not happened, he will be back, he said.
Crandell also shared a personal story about the mail situation, saying that he has received mail only two days over the last two weeks. He handles personal business online, he said, but knows that many of his constituents do not.
“Being a guy who grew up in Dundalk and knowing people in Essex, we are a blue-collar community,” Crandell said. “We are a community that embraces a work ethic.
“We are not a community that embraces excuses, which is what we have heard for over a year. We know that COVID has caused a problem with the United States Postal Service in our area, but the complaints were coming before we entered the pandemic.”
Crandell said that Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, has made attempts to set up meetings with USPS officials. His office assisted, he said. Two meetings were set. The first was a conference call. The officials never showed.
“It was very frustrating to me to report back to my constituents that we did not get a meeting,” Crandell said. “That’s the kind of accountability that we’re after. We’re local elected officials making an issue on behalf of their constituents, whether that’s a federal agency, a state agency or a county agency.
“We’re all in this together, and this is a service that we rely upon. If you buy a subscription to a periodical, you’re paying for it to be delivered to your mailbox.”
Mary McWilliams, the owner of Dundalk Florist, went to the press conference with a box full of late mail she has received since last year. Like others, she received bills in January that were postmarked in November. The bills were addressed to her business.
“Our problem has been going on since August,” McWilliams said. “But Christmas time was just a total nightmare. In December and January, we got hardly any mail. I went 10-12 days without mail.”
“My checks I was mailing out, my accounts payable, were not getting where they needed to go, as well as my mail coming in was not getting to me.”
McWilliams said she went to the Dundalk Post Office on Jan. 26 and picked up her mail. Several envelopes were postmarked in December. Since then, she has been keeping all of her mail, sorted by dates postmarked, to see how long it takes a piece of mail to get from its starting point to its final destination.
“I could go 4-10 days with no mail delivery at all,” McWilliams said. “I’ve been driving my ongoing mail to other branches because I can’t trust the Dundalk Post Office to give my outgoing mail.
“I’ve literally gone to Harford County, Highlandtown, Rosedale. My outgoing mail gets delivered to other branches.”
McWilliams said her customers are also experiencing difficulties when conducting their business with her. Customers’ payments are not seeing their payments delivered on time, and are acquiring late fees as a result. She has received past due notices from vendors, as well, she said. It took four weeks to get all of those resolved, she added.
McWilliams said she has heard suggestions to conduct her business online. She has refused, she said, being that mailing checks makes her bookkeeping much easier.
Metzgar told the Eagle after the press conference that if progress has not been made in 60 days, he will ask the Dundalk Post Office’s supervisor to resign.