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Return to sender: Postal Service appears to delay disputed plans for Lehigh Valley mail processing

USPS Cranberry Township
An unpopular effort to consolidate U.S. Postal Service facilities has been delayed. The change appears to be taking effect in the Lehigh Valley, which would have seen local mail shuttled to Harrisburg.

HANOVER TWP., Lehigh County, Pa. — A controversial plan to truck Lehigh Valley mail to Harrisburg appears to have been put on ice, federal officials said Tuesday.

In a letter publicized Monday, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy revealed the U.S. Postal Service will delay plans to consolidate postal centers across the country until at least January.

DeJoy's "Delivering for America" plan intends to cut costs by up to $177 million nationwide by consolidating facilities to improve efficiency.

There's been no word from the Postal Service on whether the delay would apply to the Lehigh Valley's processing center on Postal Road.

But, U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-Lehigh Valley, said she and her team have been in communication with members of Congress, labor leaders and the Postal Service and are optimistic the delay will go into effect locally.

"I believe that Postmaster DeJoy and the USPS have a responsibility to proactively contact each of the 60 processing plants – including our Allentown mail operation – to affirm that they are included in his announcement, and will not be currently subject to relocation," Wild said.

"The Postal Service still has work to do to rectify the mail issues that have plagued Pennsylvania ..."
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., confirmed he and his staff have also heard consolidation efforts in the Lehigh Valley and Johnstown are part of the wider delay.

"The Postal Service still has work to do to rectify the mail issues that have plagued Pennsylvania during DeJoy's tenure, and I am going to keep pushing for improvements," Casey said in a statement.

A Postal Service spokesman did not return a request for comment Tuesday on whether DeJoy's letter applied to the Lehigh Valley. Andy Kubat, president of the Lehigh Valley area local of the American Postal Workers Union, did not return emails seeking comment.

An ill-received delivery

As part of a cost-savings measure, the Postal Service announced last fall that it intended to ship mail originating in the Lehigh Valley and Poconos to Harrisburg for processing. From there, it would be shipped out to the appropriate Postal Service distribution center for local mail carriers to deliver.

That meant mail bound from one Lehigh Valley location to another would travel an extra 168 miles round trip on Interstate 78. Despite the added mileage and exposure to traffic, USPS officials said the switch would not hamper delivery times and would save between $5.3 million and $7 million.

The plan drew immediate skepticism and pushback.

The American Postal Workers Union questioned where the savings would come from since the plan wouldn't eliminate any positions. While 31 workers would be reassigned in the plan, the existing processing center on Postal Road would continue to operate as a distribution center.

The plan called for improving the efficiency of the existing site by restructuring the floor layout and modernizing the facility.

Local officials expressed relief Tuesday night when told of the delay.

Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure said county election officials added extra drop boxes for mail-in ballots due in part to concerns over the reliability of the Postal Service. In 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered counties to accept late-arriving mail-in ballots up to three days after the general election because of widespread mail delays.

"I absolutely hope that's the case," said McClure, who said he opposes the consolidation plans. "This has the potential to adversely affect people's right to vote. The right to vote is sacred and we need to make sure we're doing everything we can to protect it."

Unpopular all around

The consolidation plan's reception in other affected communities has been chilly as well.

Last week, 26 U.S. senators told DeJoy in a joint letter to improve mail delivery service immediately and halt the consolidation effort until the Postal Regulatory Commission could review the plan and issue an advisory opinion on it.

In some cases, the plan would ship mail out-of-state, and senators questioned how the process could improve efficiency or costs.

Changes in some rural areas have already eliminated the possibility of overnight delivery for critical mail such as medications and laboratory tests, according to the senators' letter.

In his response, DeJoy agreed to pause the changes but did not commit to seeking the outside opinion. Much of his letter downplayed the effect of the changes, saying that only 15% of mail would be shipped to more distant locations before it's delivered.

The changes are part of his effort to plug a $6.5 billion shortfall within the Postal Service.

"We do not see these planned actions as at all consequential to service; rather, they are important elements of achieving a network that can provide greater service reliability in a cost-effective manner," DeJoy wrote.