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Lost mail? What we found when we put the Houston area mail service to the test

HOUSTON – With concerns about mail delivery issues ahead of the election, our KPRC Investigates team put the United States Postal Service in Houston to the test. From Montgomery County to Galveston County and lots of places in between, we mailed dozens of letters and tracked the timeliness of the arrivals. Our test is not scientific, but our results and what we found during our test is interesting.

Customers fed up with mail issues

Checking the mail at Bob Herbert and Associates on Aldine Bender in North Houston is a daily disappointment. Some days there is nothing. Other days the mail they sent out is returned. Checks this small oil services company is counting on are rerouted for no apparent reason.

“Very frustrating,” said manager Kathy Bourquardez. “We need every check, every day. Without getting that money coming in, you have no money for payroll.”

Bourquardez and her co-workers represent just a small slice of dissatisfied mail customers whose complaints are often anecdotal accounts with no science or records to back them up.

“It’s not an isolated situation at all,” said Bourquardez.

Mail service put to the test

To find out how common problems are we set up our own test. We rented a post office box from the post office on West Gray near Downtown Houston.

Then, we mailed 102 first-class letters from all over town. We sent letters to Southwest Houston, Kingwood, Missouri City, Tomball, West Houston, North Houston, The Woodlands, Cypress, Galveston, Liberty County, and Montgomery County.

We checked the P.O. box every day and here is what we found. Most of the letters, 59% of them, arrived in two days. 26% arrived the very next day. About 12% took 3 or 4 days to get to us.

The letters that took the longest time to reach us were all mailed from collection boxes in Tomball. Three of the letters (about 3%) never arrived at all. We sent two of those letters from a collection bin in Fairfield. It appears that someone’s picking up the mail at the location, but what happened to our letters after that is anyone’s guess.

The investigation into delayed mail in Houston

Every single piece of mail that comes in and out of Houston is sorted and processed at the North Houston Processing and Distribution Center on Aldine Bender. While no one at the postal service would talk to us about delivery issues, we did some digging and found out some interesting information about mail delivery timing.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Postal Service issued an alert in 2016 that revealed the facility in Houston had the highest overall delayed mail volume in the country. Nearly 6% (5.65%) of all First Class mail processed there was late.

The Inspector-General investigation noted “inadequate staffing and supervision” as the main problems. Citing an increase in mail routed to the location with no extra staff to handle it. While the postal service reported to the OIG that it took steps to fix those delays, there hasn’t been another study to find out if the situation is any better.

What about mail-in ballots?

Adding to the mail delay concern are mail-in ballots just weeks away from the election. Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins seems confident in the Postal Service’s ability to get the ballots to customers and back to his office counted in time.

“The postal service will know if a mail-in ballot is a mail-in ballot,” Hollins explained. “They can treat that piece of mail differently and make sure those pieces of mail get directed to us as soon as possible.”

If you are using a mail-in ballot, Hollins urges you to mail it at least a week before election day on November 3. There is no doubt a lot of scrutiny on the postal service right now so close to the election, but that may not help with the daily delivery issues so many people are seeing.

Having a problem with your mail?

If you are having issues with your mail delivery, you should report it to the United States Postal Service. You contact different departments depending on your issue. For example, lost mail, stolen mail, etc. There are hotlines and emails where you can get in contact with the right department to get answers. Check here for everything you need to get help.