Postal Updates

Amid improving delivery scores, USPS cites more than 400 undelivered packages containing human remains

Jul 17, 2023, 10 AM
A July 5 audit report from the United States Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General found that more than 400 packages of cremated human remains were determined to be undeliverable and/or unidentifiable. Image courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service.

By Allen Abel

The United States Postal Service has reported a slight improvement in reaching its self-set standards for timely delivery of several categories of letters, marketing materials and magazines, while admitting that hundreds of packages containing cremated human remains sit undelivered and entombed in a macabre modern version of a dead letter office.

A July 7 USPS news release covering the final week of the third quarter of the 2023 fiscal year stated that 92.4 percent of first-class mail had been delivered “on time against the USPS service standard, an increase of 1.4 percentage points from the fiscal second quarter.”

A total of 95.9 percent of marketing mail was delivered on time, an increase of 1.3 percent compared to the second quarter, and on-time delivery of periodicals (magazines, etc.) climbed 2.1 percent to 88.6 percent.

“Currently 98% of the nation’s population receives their mail and packages in less than three days,” the USPS said.

According to the press release, the “USPS is working hard to correct service-related issues in the other limited areas” and is modernizing “the outmoded and aging postal network across the nation.”

The improved delivery scores came only two days after the release of the results of a less rosy internal investigation into the Postal Service’s handling of cremated human remains, also called cremains.

The July 5 audit report from the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General was signed by Mary K. Lloyd, deputy assistant inspector general for mission operations, and was prepared as the result of a request for an inquiry by Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind.

The report, titled “Cremated Remains,” stated that as of Feb. 27, there were 452 undeliverable and/or unidentifiable cremated remains packages at the mail recovery center in Atlanta, with the oldest box in storage dated Feb. 24, 2015.

In some cases, illegible or incorrect addresses written by customers made delivery impossible, but in others, the USPS was clearly at fault. The Postal Service is the only entity legally authorized to ship cremains.

“Cremated Remains packages were not always properly labeled to be visible in the Postal Service network,” the report stated. “Currently, there is no policy to prepare, package, and segregate Cremated Remains packages for dispatch to the designated mail processing facility. Further, the Postal Service did not always follow the procedures for monitoring Cremated Remains packages in the Postal Service network.”

The inspector general observed a sample of 18 postal clerks at an unnamed facility as they accepted and prepared parcels containing human cremains, and found that half of the cremated remains mailing labels placed on the packages did not fully cover all other visible barcodes.

The Postal Service’s director of audit services responded that a sampling of 18 clerks “did not statistically represent the population of retail employees from 30,217 retail facilities.”

News outlets across the country have been eager to broadcast the complaints of bereaved individuals who have not received their loved one’s remains, while sometimes failing to mention that the USPS accurately processed and successfully delivered more than 165,000 boxes of cremains during fiscal year 2022.

In Idaho, Shirley Satter told KIVI-TV that the USPS had failed to deliver two out of three padded Priority Mail Express envelopes containing her late husband’s ashes and that she had been told that she should have brought the mailpieces to a postal clerk rather than place them in a drop box outside the post office.

In Texas, Crystal Shabaker told the NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth television station that after her twin brother died in December 2021, she attempted to mail his cremains to his son.

According to an April 1, 2022, report on the NBC 5 website, Shabaker said the cremains package “went from Denton to [a] Fort Worth distribution center and then it stopped there and sat there for month.”

Shabaker submitted a lost item claim for $10,000, but the USPS offered only $50 in compensation.

“A $50 check isn’t going to make up for it,” Shabaker said. “Finding my brother’s ashes would.”

“I want my brother found,” she said.

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