RICHMOND, Va. -- Tonya Pulliam strives to serve others. She's spent more than 20 years as a social worker, with the last 14 dedicated to helping children in need through PICF Training Institute, which helps youth aging out of foster care services or coming out of incarceration find their footing.
She also oversees Sarah's Den Thrift Store located on East Broad Street in Richmond, which works in tandem with PICF, often employing some of the youth she works with at PICF.
"We do a lot of service for the community right here in the City of Richmond," Pulliam explained. "We do homeless feeding every first Saturday of each month, as well as free giveaways for clothes every day of the week."
Sustaining PICF and Sarah's Den means sending and receiving contracts, invoices, and donations through the mail.
"We do all of our reimbursements through the mail, we invoice. It's an antiquated system, but it's what works for the state of Virginia. So, we invoice via paper, so it gets mailed out that way," Pulliam said. "With all the contracts that we have, we're contracted with localities throughout the state of Virginia, they rely on the mail system as well to receive our reports, to receive our documentation, to receive our invoices, and once they receive them, then they send us payment for those services as a reimbursement."
Mail service, Pulliam says, started moving slower than usual last fall.
"We have to wait on the mail for that to get to us, which can be anywhere from 30 to 45 days on a regular day. But with the system being the way it is, and what's going on with the postal system, it could be 60-90 days — and that's been taxing for all parties," Pulliam said.
“We have people who send in checks monthly through the mail to support what we do here and if they get lost, which they have gotten lost in the mail in the last few months, we’ve had to track it down, and do stop payments and sign affidavits to say hey we haven’t received those resources," she said.
Postal workers told Pulliam they're working as fast as they can to deliver documents and donations, but Pulliam is still paranoid.
“It’s actual terrifying because we’re at the mercy of this system, and for our business, we’re a small business, and for us to really, truly function and do what we’re set out to do, we depend on the postal system to be effective, at least efficient, and right now, it’s not," she said.
Problems with the Postal Service: 'The Postal Service in Richmond is broken'
CBS 6 continues to receive reports of slow or even stolen mail. On February 2, Senator Tim Kaine hosted a roundtable to hear concerns from Richmonders regarding slow postal service. Both he and Senator Mark Warner co-signed a letter, along with several other lawmakers, asking USPS for a tour of a facility tied to an incident that caused hundreds of colon cancer screening tests to not make it to Richmond's VA Hospital in time to be tested.
"The challenge the postal service has is recruitment and retention of employees. The postal service used to be a pathway to middle class living," Warner said. "It's not viewed that way anymore, unfortunately."
"We're going to do do everything we can until first, we get answers and then, more importantly, we get fixes," Kaine said.
Both Kaine and Warner said they would likely share an update on USPS soon, with Warner saying there had been an Inspector General investigation at the Sandston facility, something his team would soon share an update on.
Until then, Pulliam said she'll try to stay patient.
"To not have answers, it really does bring a lot of anxiety for small business owners like myself, because we gotta figure out what we’re going to do instead because we still have to have a plan to take care of the people we say we’re going to take care of," Pulliam said.
Commonwealth Attorney Collette McEachin will be hosting a town hall meeting for those who are experiencing mail issues. The town hall is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 21 at James Branch Cabell Library Room 303 from 6-7:30 p.m.
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