Whether you’re looking to apply for a passport or you need to send off an absentee ballot to vote, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is a vital institution that provides essential services to people across the country. But the agency is not exactly at its most functional right now, as it has been battling challenges from staffing shortages to financial shortcomings over the past few years. In April, President Joe Biden signed the Postal Service Reform Act, which is set provide nearly $50 billion in relief to the USPS over the next 10 years, in an attempt to help strengthen the agency. It won’t be an easy fix, however—especially now that the Postal Service is getting slammed over another problem altogether. Read on to find out what issue is now being described as “deeply troubling” by elected officials.
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The USPS has faced its fair share of criticism for recent issues.
A number of problems the Postal Service has been dealing with recently have fallen back on the Americans it serves. In January, the USPS faced backlash for a website glitch that was preventing people from ordering their free COVID tests from the White House. Meanwhile, residents across the country have repeatedly complained about delivery delays from the postal agency, which have been brought on by the COVID pandemic, staffing shortages, and increased mail volume.
It’s not just the average consumer pushing back against the USPS either. In early April, the Postal Service confirmed that it is planning to raise the price of stamps significantly in July. In response, two major postal nonprofits and members of Congress have been petitioning against the price hike. “They do not need these excessive rate hikes now,” Stephen Kearney, executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, told USA Today.
Now officials are slamming the USPS over a different problem.
The most recent backlash levied at the Postal Service pertains to a different issue entirely. On May 31, four U.S. senators sent a letter to U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy criticizing the agency for rising mail theft, NBC10 in Philadelphia reported. The senators, including both Democrats and Republicans, are Tom Carper from Delaware, Bob Casey from Pennsylvania, Rob Portman from Ohio, and Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania.
“Reports that thieves are accessing USPS Blue Collection boxes to steal and then sort through mail to identify checks that they then use for personal gain are deeply troubling,” the senators wrote in their letter. “Americans use the Postal Service to mail checks to pay their taxes and bills; they should not have to worry that those checks may be stolen.”
There have been a number of recent reports about checks being stolen out of the mail.
While there are multiple types of mail theft, the senators are specifically referring to “washed check” thefts, according to NBC10. The news outlet said they’ve covered several reports of this scheme in 2022, which involves a thief gaining access to mail from the USPS, finding a personal check, and then fraudulently recreating and cashing the check for a large amount of money.
Postal Police Officer’s Association (PPOA) President Frank Albergo told NBC-affiliate News 4 in Washington, D.C., that thieves are now gaining access to USPS mail by attacking and robbing carriers of their arrow key, which is a master key that can unlock many of the agency’s blue collection boxes in a single delivery and collection route.
“These arrow keys give access to collection boxes, apartment panels, relay boxes, cluster boxes. So instead of getting a few letters, they are actually getting tubs and satchels of mail,” Albergo explained. According to new data from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), robberies and assaults against mail carriers are on the rise, with more than 2,000 attacks targeting workers since 2020.
USPS officials have previously admitted to issues with keys and collection boxes.
In an Aug. 2020 report that was cited by the senators in their letter, the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that the Postal Service’s management controls over its arrow keys were ineffective. “Specifically, the number of arrow keys in circulation is unknown, and local units did not adequately report lost, stolen, or broken keys or maintain key inventories,” the report stated. “Further, the Postal Service did not restrict the number of replacement arrow keys that could be ordered.”
The OIG concluded that this was a major security issue because “ineffective controls over arrow keys increases the risk that these items will be lost or stolen and not detected.” In their letter, the senators are demanding answers from the USPS within the next 30 days to several questions about the safety of Americans’ mail. This includes what plans the Postal Service has to improve mechanisms to identify and investigate lost or stolen keys, whether or not the USPS has identified instances of carriers selling keys, what prior steps the agency has taken to improve management controls, and plans to mitigate mail theft from USPS Blue Collection boxes.
“This faith in the postal service on this issue, as well as a range of issues, has to be restored,” Casey told NBC10. “When you have the hard earned money that folks go out and earn every day, and then they have that money stolen because of some problems within the system, whether it’s the inability to secure these blue collection boxes or whether it’s other problems with these so-called universal keys, we got to make sure that we get answers to these questions.”
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