Lost in the mail

FILLERS

BY JOHN CULLEN

It’s winter, and that means it’s time for mail problems for snowbirds.      

Delivery get especially bad after the first of the year. Subscribers from Florida, Arizona and Texas tell us that they sometimes won’t get their newspapers for a couple weeks at a time, then three or four papers show up in a bundle. They wonder if we are mailing them out that way.

No. You can thank the Postal Service for that.

We’ve also been fielding calls from subscribers in the Spencer area who tell us their papers are taking a week or more to reach them. Some readers in Laurens are having the same problem.

Here’s the problem: Des Moines.

All the mail from Storm Lake — and most of the rest of Iowa east of Highway 71 — is sorted in Des Moines. It’s been that way for several years. When the distribution center down there gets jammed up, well, the mail doesn’t move. Newspapers are supposed to move with first class mail, but they don’t. They move when the postal workers in Des Moines are good and ready.

Don’t blame the local postal workers. They have no control over what happens — or doesn’t happen — in Des Moines. They are frustrated too because they take the heat for problems that aren’t their fault.

We have been in contact with postal officials in Des Moines, and they know there is a problem. They are fielding calls from publishers and other mailers from across the state. They say they are trying to figure out what’s going wrong.

I can tell them. There aren’t enough workers to get the job done.

The Postal Service, which has been losing hundreds of millions of dollars for years, has cut its workforce by tens of thousands. That’s why mail is trucked from all over the state to Des Moines for automated sorting in big machines that return the mail to the local post offices in proper delivery order. Local post offices are working with smaller staffs and shorter hours too. Some small post offices have been closed. Mail for Laurens is now delivered out of Pocahontas. Mail for Early is delivered out of Sac City. Mail for Rembrandt is delivered out of Sioux Rapids. Across the nation, fewer people are doing more work.

The problem in Spencer is compounded by the fact that its mail is sorted in Sioux Falls, S.D. That’s where all mail west of Storm Lake, even Sioux City, is processed. So if you mail a letter from Storm Lake to Alta, it will go first to Des Moines, then Sioux Falls, before arriving back at its destination five miles west of here. Our newspapers mailed from Storm Lake to Spencer, and all other area towns whose Zip Codes begin with 51, also take that route through Des Moines and Sioux Falls. It seems odd, like when you fly from Omaha to Denver with a stop in Dallas, but that’s how they do it now to get by with fewer postal workers.

Newspapers destined for area towns are hauled by our employees to the individual post offices in Alta, Aurelia, Linn Grove, Rembrandt, Sioux Rapids, Marathon, Albert City, Fonda, Newell, Early and Schaller, as well as Storm Lake, so readers in those towns get their newspapers on time. The Postal Service allows newspapers to bypass its mail handling service in Des Moines through this method known as Exceptional Dispatch. Even though we do all the hauling, we pay the same postage as if it was handled through Des Moines. It’s worth the extra effort and expense to get our newspapers to as many readers as possible on time.

For those readers who can’t wait to get your Times in the mail, we invite you to read it online, where it is posted the morning of publication. Subscribers can have this service for no additional charge.

We have suggested this option to our readers in the Southwest, but most of them would rather have the printed product in their hands rather than squint at a computer screen or cellphone.

That’s how I feel too.