The U.S. Postal Service is recruiting employees from the continental United States to serve stints in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, where the agency is working slowly to restore normal services.
USPS is not offering any relocation incentives, travel reimbursements or even food or lodging per diems. Volunteers will receive their regular pay and applicable overtime, but will need to arrange their own housing with relatives. Interested employees must submit letters of intent for review by management, including their plans for where they would stay.
Those deployed to Puerto Rico, which is still struggling to recover from the damage wrought by Hurricane Maria last month, will work their regular jobs. A letter carrier, for example, would deliver mail on the island. The Postal Service is seeking both career and non-career volunteers to serve for 30-day stints, which could be renewed.
“This is not an assignment for everyone,” USPS Northeastern Area Vice President Ed Phelan, whose jurisdiction also includes the Caribbean, wrote in a post on an internal employee website. “But for some of you, it is an opportunity to extend your service in a place and at a time when it is needed.”
The Postal Service has ramped up the shipment of mail through cargo ships as extra demand for flights has disrupted USPS' normal air transportation to the island. Most post offices have reopened with normal hours, though some customers are being rerouted to alternate locations. All customers have access to their mail, but some must go to a retail location instead of receiving normal deliveries.
The agency is still in the process of handling several disasters across the country. Many post offices in northern California have been damaged by wildfires and remain closed. In South Florida, all post offices are open but are operating with some service restrictions due to fallout from Hurricane Irma. More than a dozen post offices in Houston and Texas’ Rio Grande Valley either remain closed or have moved to different locations due to damage sustained during Hurricane Harvey.
Many postal employees were personally affected by those hurricanes and wildfires, according to USPS spokesman Dave Partenheimer, who noted some workers have lost their homes. The Postal Employees’ Relief Fund provides workers with the opportunity to donate to their colleagues in need. The fund provides assistance grants to victims of natural disasters.
Partenheimer said the Postal Service’s “long history” of responding to natural disasters prepared the agency for the recent string of weather events.
“That experience along with plans, procedures and protocols put in place to respond to emergencies that could disrupt postal operations enabled postal senior and line management to respond to and resume operations quickly, safely and efficiently in areas affected by the recent hurricanes and the California wildfires,” he said.
The agency’s law enforcement arm, the Postal Inspection Service, conducts assessments of postal facilities after disasters strike. When buildings must close, PIS helps identify spaces to deliver mail safely. It also helps obtain fuel and supplies, a difficult task in post-storm areas that has been accentuated on the island of Puerto Rico. The Postal Service has provided its employees in affected regions with safety guidance.
USPS has joined the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Incident Communications Conference Calls since Harvey hit Texas in August. Those calls have continued through the responses to Irma and Maria, as well as the California wildfires. They have helped the Postal Service coordinate with other federal agencies to ensure customers receive government checks and medications.