When Catherine Sandy moved to Bluffton in October, she didn’t receive her first electric, cable or garbage bills.
She still hasn’t.
Two Christmas cards and two birthday cards never showed up.
On Tuesday, she went to the doctor and was asked for her new healthcare card. She never got it in the mail, but her healthcare company told her it was mailed on Dec. 4.
“There are times I go a week without mail,” Sandy said Thursday.
Like Sandy, others in Bluffton and Hilton Head are talking about mail delivery problems on Facebook. In the more than 75 comments, residents shared stories of having mail marked as delivered that never comes, of piles of mail for an entire community being left in a single mailbox and of mail being sent to the wrong address regularly.
“They (the post office) just need to get their act together,” Sandy said.
Sandy has filed a complaint with the U.S. Postal Service online several times. The first time, someone from a USPS office in Columbia called her. The second time, someone from a Bluffton office called her. She’s called the Bluffton post office “half a dozen times,” and has even gone to the office to inform them of the problems.
But they are never resolved, she said.
Blaming the storm
Rick Badie, the regional spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said the recent snowstorm may have caused problems with mail delivery.
“During and after a storm postal employees make every reasonable, safe attempt to deliver mail,” Badie said in an emailed statement. “Some select areas did experience disruptions due to recent winter weather including snow, ice and freezing temperatures, which caused some roads to become unsafe.”
Badie said all routes have since resumed.
“We apologize for any inconvenience, but safety is our top priority,” Badie said.
But like Sandy, other Bluffton and Hilton Head residents said mail delivery problems were happening well before last week’s snowstorm.
According to a Jan. 5, 2003 issue of The Island Packet, Bluffton residents had complaints of the same mail delivery problems — late mail, missing mail and mail sent to the wrong address — after mail was discovered in a dumpster behind the Bluffton post office. The postmaster at the time said it was tossed out because it was “undeliverable.”
The postmaster then also cited an overcrowded facility and carriers “overburdened by growth” as the reason for late mail.
A U.S. Postal Service inspector was called in to investigate, according to The Island Packet’s coverage. The Bluffton postmaster was placed on administrative leave, a rural carrier was suspended without pay and “more than one” independent contract employee was fired, but little was revealed about the investigation.
A national problem?
Problems at post offices across the country were reported in 2017.
According to a December report from Fox 13 in Salt Lake City, postal workers “said they’re being forced to fake package deliveries to make it look like they’re meeting quotas for companies like Amazon.” An anonymous postal worker said local offices are “too understaffed to meet delivery expectations.”
A similar story was reported in the same month from CBS 46 in Atlanta, in which an anonymous ex-post office employee said workers scan Amazon packages as delivered even when they are not to protect their contract with Amazon.
WRAL.com reported mail delivery complaints from Raliegh, North Carolina residents in December. “The problem started well before the busy holiday shipping season,” the story said. “But some say it seems to be getting worse.”
Badie did not respond to a request for comment about the levels of staffing at local post offices.
When asked if the USPS was aware that these problems have been going on since before the snowstorm, Badie said he would need specific names, addresses, dates of incidents, whether customers contacted local offices and who they spoke to in order to answer the question.
A ‘valid address’
For Aubrey Williams, mail delivery problems have been ongoing since mid-2017.
Williams lives in Ridgeland but works on Hilton Head. She’s not comfortable with deliveries being left on her doorstep all day, so she’s had packages delivered to her office on Merchant Street for the last eight years.
But halfway through 2017, she said packages went missing. The post office would call to say they could not deliver a package because she gave them an “unknown address.” She had several packages marked as delivered to the front desk of her office online, but they never came.
When Williams went to the post office on the north end of the island, she was told those packages were delivered to a hotel on Museum Street. She asked why she kept having delivery problems, and was told “there are too many streets that start with an ‘m’” and when drivers are filling in on other routes, they can’t figure out where to bring the packages.
She was advised to write “second floor” on her address, so that mail carriers would be directed to the correct floor of her building, because the bottom floor is rented to another business.
She did that, but was later contacted by the post office because “second floor” was not a “valid address,” and the mail carrier didn’t know where to go.
Now, she has her packages mailed to her parents’ home in Beaufort.
Like Williams, many Bluffton and Hilton Head residents are adapting to prevent more mail inconveniences, according to comments left on the Facebook inquiry.
Sandy has switched to paperless billing, because she knows she can’t count on her bills arriving before they are due. She had to ask Beaufort County to resend her property tax bill because it never showed up, she said.
Now she’s waiting on her W-2, which may or may not arrive.