To bide her time during quarantine, 11-year-old Jillian Wuertz and a friend hatched a quaint plan. They would become pen pals. They both live in Bakersfield but the anticipation of a letter in the mailbox, reading the-stream-of-thought-styled passages, penning exclamation points and smiley faces, seemed exciting.
Jillian fired off the first letter the same day the two discussed the idea in May. And then she waited. And waited.
A few weeks later she sent another letter and later learned both letters were delivered to her friend the same day.
The pair exchanged a few more letters, some subject to similar but not as lengthy delays, before the concept seemed to lose its luster.
When she went to write the most recent letter, she seemed a bit exasperated.
"Can I just FaceTime her?" she asked her mom. "I feel like it’s just quicker to FaceTime with her."
Jillian is one of many who has had odd, disappointing or frustrating experiences with the U.S. Postal Service lately. The USPS has said on its website that delivery times have been impacted by "limited transportation availability" but it has also been revealed that new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has implemented a plan to increase efficiency and cut costs that could also be partly to blame. There have also been widespread reports of delays in mail-order prescriptions and rotting food and dead baby chicks (often shipped from rural farmers immediately after they hatch) at postal facilities.
Bakersfield resident Jason Sperber posted on Facebook earlier this week that a birthday card he mailed his father in Los Angeles earlier this month took two weeks to get there and had been postmarked in Louisville, Ky. A second birthday card from Sperber's daughters, mailed the same day, arrived Aug. 5.
"What?!! I’m so confused," he wrote.
Friends commenting on his post shared similar experiences. Sara Chan Pettiford said a package she sent to her nephew in North Hollywood in a flat-rate priority box had somehow wound up in Atlanta, according to the tracking information on the USPS website.
The most recent update available as of Friday was from Aug. 11. It said: "Your package will arrive later than expected, but is still on its way. It is currently in transit to the next facility."
Pettiford said Friday she is also still waiting on a package she ordered from Amazon.
Another woman commenting on Sperber's post said a package she was expecting from Riverside County took a seven-day detour through Lenexa, Kan., before it arrived back in California and eventually arrived in Bakersfield 12 days after it was shipped. She posted an image of the tracking to corroborate the story.
The hiccups appear to be the result of a double whammy impacting the Postal Service.
COVID-19 created a deluge of parcels as people migrated to online shopping and also sickened some postal workers. At the same time, a major cost-cutting plan was being implemented by DeJoy that eliminated overtime and mothballed some sorting machines.
The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Postal Service workers in Santa Clarita had noticed in July that some automated sorting machines had been removed from service and a worker in Tehachapi said trucks were now leaving at night before all the day's mail had been processed.
In 2014, the USPS moved local mail processing operations from the Bakersfield Processing & Distribution Center on Pegasus Drive to Santa Clarita, meaning even if a letter was being sent to an address in town, it still traveled to Santa Clarita first.
Postal officials last week had little to say when asked about the mail delivery issues encountered by locals.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has led to heavy parcel volumes as customers continue to place online orders of essential items as they shelter in place," said Meiko S. Patton, a USPS spokeswoman based in Sacramento. "Our employees are working diligently to keep up with the increased volume. We are flexing our available resources to match the workload and appreciate the patience of our customers and the efforts of employees as conditions change on a day-to-day basis."
During congressional testimony Friday, DeJoy assured lawmakers that November elections would run smoothly and ensured timely delivery of mail-in ballots but conceded a plan to do so was not yet complete. Though he has agreed to stall further cost-cutting measures until after the elections, he refused during testimony to restore measures that had already been implemented.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy's office reported no increase in calls related to the Postal Service.
“The issues with the USPS have been going on for years, and predates both this administration and the current postmaster general who just took the post a few months ago," McCarthy said in a statement. "I am extremely confident that Mr. DeJoy, who previously served as the CEO of a logistics company that supported Postal Service operations, is the right man for the job and will tackle these long-term problems head-on.”