The mail is so late in this Lehigh Valley neighborhood, a woman didn’t get her ballot until after Election Day
Since mid-October, Mary Jane Trembley has meticulously kept track of which days she receives her mail.
No mail on Oct. 14, 15 and 16. Just junk mail Oct. 18. Nothing Oct. 22, 23, 24, 25. And an empty mailbox again on Oct. 28, 29, 30 and Nov. 1.
Nov. 2, a statewide election day, came and went and Trembley had not received her mail-in ballot that she was automatically signed up to receive. Two days after the election, she received a huge mail delivery. It was all of the magazines she had subscribed to for the month of October that she had not received.
Her mail-in ballot came in that haul, too.
Trembley, who lives in Center City Allentown, was unable to vote in person on Election Day because she is unable to walk long distances due to health issues — she is diabetic and has knee problems — and she does not drive.
“How is this fair for people who are low class like us?” Trembley said.
Trembley lives on North Fountain Street, a narrow alley just a few blocks from Seventh Street. Trembley said her neighbors in the other three units surrounding hers have the same problem.
USPS spokesperson Paul Smith said that the postal service is “actively hiring to address pockets of employee availability issues.” He said the USPS is holding a hiring fair in Macungie on Nov. 30 specifically to hire more city carriers to service Allentown.
Trembley said she calls the USPS help line every week and has a “case number” with their customer service but has not yet seen a change. She has called her state representatives, U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, the Lehigh County Board of Elections and incoming Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk about the delays, but said she has not received an adequate response.
The trouble began in early October, she said. Before she began keeping track of when she received her mail, she noticed it was not delivered in consecutive days. She also noticed her regular carrier who she knew was not the one delivering it when it did come.
She flagged down a mail carrier on her street in October, who told her that her regular carrier was reassigned to a new route.
Trembley also said she experienced significant delays between February and April — which is around the time that USPS conducted an audit of the Lehigh Valley Processing and Distribution center after many complaints of late mail.
Smith said that when a regional post office faces staffing shortages, they fully authorize overtime, expand delivery times to early mornings, late evenings and Sundays, and use additional carriers from nearby routes to supplement routes without a full-time assigned carrier.
That’s what Trembley has experienced. She said she’s had mail delivered on Sundays, early in the morning and late at night.
Trembley’s neighborhood isn’t an anomaly. Tuerk, who takes office in January,said multiple people across Allentown complained about mail delays while he door knocked for his campaign, including some that had yet to receive their mail-in ballots in the days leading up to the election.
“It’s a ridiculous number that aren’t getting mail delivery every day,” Tuerk said.
Even with recent reports of late mail, Andy Kurat, president of the Lehigh Valley American Postal Workers Union, said there’s been significant improvement since last year, when delays plagued the 2020 holiday season.
“It’s night and day. Last year, we had the mail-in ballots flooding the system, we had everybody under lockdown shopping from home, a huge spike in deliveries,” Kurat said. “I think we’re much better prepared this year than we were last year.”
Still, Kurat noted that the USPS is struggling to fill worker shortages and postal workers are working overtime to make up for gaps in employment.
Even though Trembley reported that her mail-in ballot was late, Tim Benyo, chief clerk of the Lehigh County Board of Elections, said that it was a typical number of mail-in ballots delivered late compared to the previous year, although he didn’t provide exact numbers. He said that late mail-in ballots have been a problem ever since the state approved universal no-excuses vote-by-mail in 2019.
To Trembley, the mail connects her to the outside world. She subscribes to several magazines and newspapers that she looks forward to every week, and during the isolation of the pandemic, they helped her pass the time.
“I was in the house, I couldn’t go anywhere, my magazines weren’t coming,” Tremblay said. “I don’t think that magazines should be considered non-essential.”
Trembley said she is not just advocating for herself, but also her neighbors who are struggling with mail delays.
“They don’t have a lot of money,” Trembley said. “They think ‘well, this is the way the government treats us and there’s nothing we can do about it.”