Mar 28, 2024 - News

A USPS plan to modernize caused Richmond's widespread mail issues

Illustration of a mailbox with fire coming out of it.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Richmond's ongoing mail delays likely stem from a flawed transition to a centralized processing hub under the U.S. postmaster general's plan to modernize the postal service.

Why it matters: Regional hubs were supposed to make the post office more efficient, but in Richmond led to widespread mail delivery issues.

The big picture: Last summer, Richmond's main mail processing facility in Sandston became the first in the nation to transition to USPS' new Regional Processing and Distribution Centers, according to a deep-dive by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

  • These new centers were designed to be the "backbone" of the postal service's upgraded delivery network, moving more mail faster and cheaper, per USPS.
  • Under the new regional network, the Henrico County facility became the processing hub for huge swaths of the state, including central Virginia, Hampton Roads and parts of northeastern North Carolina.
  • The change was part of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's 2021 10-year "Delivering for America" plan to transform and modernize the postal service into a financially sound and efficient agency.

Zoom in: The problems started almost immediately, per the RTD.

  • While locals were reporting escalating incidents of mail issues — including delayed cancer screening results for veterans, mail theft and missing voter ballots — USPS was reviewing the problematic Richmond rollout.
  • At some point last year, USPS dispatched a team of 20 down to Richmond to see what was going on.
  • Meanwhile, a member of the Postal Regulatory Commission who lives in Richmond was charged a late fee when his mailed personal property payment went missing. Twice.

By October — a month before Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Colette McEachin tried to organize a town hall to address locals' mail issues — the postal services' watchdog agency graded Virginia the worst in the nation for on-time delivery.

  • Since then, Virginia's on-time mail delivery rate has been 66% — down significantly from any other state and its 89% delivery rate in 2020.

The other side: The majority of mail in the Richmond area is being delivered on time, but in cases where it isn't, USPS is "working quickly to resolve any issues," a spokesperson told the RTD.

What we're watching: A USPS inspector general audit of the Richmond Regional Processing and Distribution Center is due out next week.

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