In every mailroom, there invariably lurks a pile of returned mail the Postal Service could not deliver. This issue, termed UAA (Undeliverable as Addressed) mail by the US Postal Service, usually pertains to First Class mail pieces returned to the sender (the USPS destroys undeliverable Marketing mail unless the mailer has requested otherwise). Being First Class mail, the contents of the returned envelopes are important. Resources were deployed and money was spent to produce and mail the items. The organization would like their bills, statements, or important notices to reach their customers. Regrettably, mail centers habitually stack this undeliverable mail in trays, pushing it to the side, and waiting for a time when someone is free to sort it out — a time which never seems to arrive. We've covered the challenges of dealing with returned mail before in this blog with articles such as: Finally Fix the Returned Mail Problem How to Finally Deal with Returned Mail Why Mail Centers Avoid Dealing with Returned Mail Based on conversations with Tritek customers, we can see the returned mail problem still exists. In some cases, it's getting worse and, in a few instances, the returned mail issue has become a full-fledged crisis. State health departments, in particular, currently find themselves buried under an unprecedented volume of UAA mail they can no longer ignore. Other organizations may not be facing the same challenges as the health departments, but this situation is a good example of how events can change things in a hurry, and it could happen again. Next time, it may affect your industry. Highly regulated businesses such as healthcare, insurance, and financial services are vulnerable, as they can be compelled to follow new rules and laws that govern their efforts to communicate with customers. How would your organization fare if you needed to write to thousands of people that had not received mail from you for several years? Much of that mail would probably come back to you. You would have to scramble to locate these people, correct their postal addresses, and re-mail the information. Why the Sudden Increase? 91 million people are qualified to receive Medicaid benefits. The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) estimates indicate that 5 to 14 million individuals may lose their coverage across the nation because of Medicaid unwinding. Medicaid unwinding is a process where states withdraw Medicaid benefits from recipients. This occurs when a recipient is deemed no longer eligible for the benefits. During the COVID pandemic, the government suspended a requirement for individuals to re-qualify for Medicaid benefits periodically, but the waiver period has now expired. The Federal government has required the states to contact all their Medicaid enrollees. State health departments are now sending application materials to the enrollees. The states obviously want to stop providing benefits to individuals who no longer qualify for the aid. The problem is the health departments have not maintained contact with Medicaid enrollees. Many times, the last known address for an individual was updated in 2019. You might see how that can be an issue: People may have moved (some several times) Some people have died Some have increased their income to a level that disqualifies them for Medicaid A percentage of Medicaid enrollees is somewhat transient and may lack permanent addresses Regulatory Requirements for State Health Departments The task of locating Medicaid enrollees and documenting the search efforts falls to state health departments. This process is governed by a set of regulatory requirements, which consider an array of factors and complexities. The process of handling undeliverable mail and successfully distributing critical medical information includes the same steps any organization would take to attack their UAA mail backlog: Maintain Accurate Records: State health departments are tasked with maintaining correct and up-to-date records of Medicaid enrollees. Any changes in the enrollee’s contact information or status should be promptly updated to avoid returned mail. This maintenance duty is a continuous process and pivotal to the overall management of Medicaid enrollment. Initiate Location Attempts: If mail is returned, state health departments must carry out a systematic process to locate the enrollees. This involves various strategies, including cross-referencing with the USPS National Change of Address (NCOA) file and other databases, reaching out to known associates or relatives, or even collaborating with private location services. Document Efforts Thoroughly: Every attempt to locate a Medicaid enrollee should be thoroughly documented for accountability and future reference. This includes details about the chosen strategy, steps taken, the response received, and how any subsequent action was performed, ensuring a transparent paper trail. Adherence to these requirements is not just a matter of formality, procedure, or compliance, but an obligation rooted in an ethical commitment to provide continual health coverage to eligible individuals. While Medicaid unwinding plays a part in the returned mail crunch, the solutions to address this problem are within reach. Adopt modern technology, revamp communication processes, and keep recipient databases up to date - these changes will not only reduce the onslaught of returned mail but also significantly improve mailing efficiency. Human Labor is Not the Answer Using human labor to handle the challenge of returned mail is futile - especially when volumes swell. In a time when companies are dealing with the daunting task of filling vacant positions, assigning employees to address the issues of returned mail is frequently not an option. Organizations initially taking a manual approach soon confront the manpower demands necessary to tackle this lengthy project. Employees devote time and effort to UAA mail only until other departmental needs arise, causing the project to grind to a halt. Interrupted and neglected, the process picks up intermittently whenever a window of availability emerges. With each passing delay, the piles of UAA mail continue to grow. The only practical solution lies in automation. Automated processes allow mail centers to manage UAA mail continuously, thereby effectively addressing and resolving this enduring problem. Automation to the Rescue Tritek’s Return Mail Solution has been helping organizations take on the UAA mail problem for years. One of the foremost challenges that emerge when amplifying the efficacy of returned mail handling through an automated approach is accommodating the physical variability of the mailpieces. The feeding and scanning hardware must accept any mail form, size, or thickness. Tritek's feeding and transport systems will handle all types of returned mail, be it letters, postcards, self-mailers, brochures, or flats. Cameras strategically positioned on the Tritek system obtain essential data from each mailpiece. The collected data includes specifics like the sending and return addresses, USPS reason-for-return stickers, permit numbers, and so on. Such data capture can be tricky, as details may be printed on either face of the mailpiece or in inconsistent orientation. However, the proven competence of the Tritek camera and data capture system ensures gathering of all relevant information from the mix of mail. Software deployed by Tritek uses customizable business rules to segregate mailpieces by department. These processes also include referencing resources such as the USPS National Change of Address file. Assessments made by the software rely on information sources that can range from logos, tag lines, or any other information presented on the mailpieces. It is crucial that the software and processing speed keep pace with the transport mechanism. The Tritek returned mail solution deposits the UAA mailpieces in the stipulated output bins. This enables the mail center staff to expedite mail delivery to the respective internal departments for further research and address correction in the customer databases. Fix This Problem Now As we have seen with the Medicare unwinding situation, failing to implement a system to process returned mail and correct addresses can catch organizations flat-footed and unprepared to deal with new needs and requirements. The standard operating procedure in many mail centers is to simply ignore the UAA mail. They lack the manpower and time necessary to ensure their organizations are ready, should new needs arise. The answer for most organizations is automation.
Universities build state-of-the-art research facilities and top-of-the-line athletic training complexes. Upgrading the mail center is rarely on their investment list though. Inter and intra-campus mail delivery does not attract highly recruited students or research grants, so understandably, mail services do not get the same budget allocations as plans for a new weight room. Nevertheless, educational institutions must take the importance of the mail into account. A campus mail center handles all the incoming and outbound communications between the college and its alums, donors, students, staff, and faculty. Along with email and telephone calls, the mail facility is a primary conduit to the outside world. The difference is that when an official, perhaps direction-changing document arrives, it often comes through the mail center. Without efficient and secure mail operations, an educational institution could miss opportunities to apply for grants or secure an endowment. Operating university mailrooms with equipment no longer suited for the job is a risk. It is also unnecessary. Affordable replacement technology is available. The College Campus Mail Center Model Has Changed Change is difficult in any organization, including within the university mail center. Barriers to change include employee resistance, ambiguity surrounding the benefits of change, and inadequate resources or equipment to implement the proposed improvements.Most campus mail center designs, policies, and processes are 50 years old. Mail workflows today are dramatically different and not supported by legacy methodology. Workflows have changed because of new technology, improving traditional methods, and accountability requirements. University mail centers must accommodate the transformation of the traditional mail stream. Transactional and social mail has declined rapidly while package volumes have grown exponentially. Higher education mail centers will reinvent themselves and embrace new technologies, including electronic mail delivery and management solutions. The “Mail Services” sign on the building will soon give way to the “Parcel, Printing, and Mail Service Center” or a similar description. The evolved mail room will distribute mail and packages to the campus community and offer outbound shipping and printing services. Campus Delivery is Now Campus Pickup Carriers, including the Postal Service, rarely deliver directly to campus locations. The possible exception is overnight and accountable items. The mail center is there to connect students and faculty with their items. Traditional campus mail systems collected mail and packages at a central site and distributed them campus-wide, including dorms, where mail may be sorted into personal mailboxes. A parcel shipment is kept behind the desk in a dormitory until the resident retrieves it. The chain of custody is lax at best. A different type of centralized approach is gaining traction nationwide. Today, carriers deliver to one building: the mail center. Students and staff receive an email or text to pick up their items. This workflow provides a tighter, more accountable chain of custody. The Mail Center Challenge The challenge for college mail centers is optimizing floor space while maintaining prompt notification of package or mail arrival. Like the USPS, a college mail center’s volume has shifted from letters to packages. Between 2009 and 2018, First Class Mail volume declined 31%, Marketing Mail volume declined 6%, while shipping and parcel volume increased 100%.1 That number is pre-COVID. Package volumes overwhelmed postal processing centers during the pandemic. Packages take up space and need manual handling. Knowing that mail is not going away anytime soon, how can colleges reduce mail's footprint to make room for boxes? The Mail Center Solution: The Tritek Oasis Inbound Mail Processing System Tritek’s Rule Editor software applies business rules to inbound mail. The editor determines which mail to open and scan. Some envelopes are only externally examined. The software directs envelopes and catalogs to bins for pickup. The mail processing hardware feeds the document, scans the front and back, opens the envelope, and gathers mail into collection bins. The Oasis Processing System helps campus mail centers overcome space and staffing constraints and provides notification in a safe and secure environment. For decades, Tritek has engineered patented, field-proven mailroom automation and document imaging solutions to improve productivity and mailroom efficiency for college campuses nationwide. The company understands the challenges faced by university mail center managers. Tritek’s expanding menu of mail services includes biohazard screening, digital email delivery, database management, returned mail processing, inbound mail, presorted mail, and parcel processing. Their clients include Fortune 500 companies, government, educational institutions, financial services, healthcare, insurance, and fulfillment. 1 https://www.cato.org/cato-journal/fall-2019/restructuring-us-postal-service#usps-s-predicament
The next U.S. presidential election is not so far away. And, while administrational methodologies may change, the basic importance of verifying signatures and tabulating ballots is agnostic to county or jurisdiction. City and county offices, staffed by permanent employees, typically oversee the administration of elections. When Election Day approaches, these employees rely on temporary poll workers — sometimes called election workers or election judges — to assist with a variety of tasks. Recruitment efforts are underway for the estimated 1 million poll workers needed for the election cycle that culminates every four years in November. Yet finding volunteers to complete the manual tasks associated with democratic elections can be challenging in these divisive, polarizing times. In 2020, 775,000 poll workers staffed over 132,500 polling places nationwide, according to data gleaned from the Election Assistance Commission. Some 52% of election jurisdictions admitted difficulties in obtaining enough poll workers. Why? Because, despite state and federal laws that protect election officials (and voters), many people feel intimidated by political activists. Fearing for their personal safety, these citizens no longer wish to volunteer their time. Indeed, threats, politicization and violence around the election process have increased dramatically since 2020, reported the not-for-profit Brennan Center for Justice, a law and public policy institute at New York University School of Law. This past October, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned that seven states continued to see unusual levels of threats to election workers. In past elections, groups concerned about widespread voter fraud sought to encourage volunteer poll workers to challenge voters and question routine election processes. Some workers have been accused of fraudulent activity themselves. The working environment became uncomfortable for some people who had functioned as election helpers for years. An individual’s personal views or political party affiliation notwithstanding, reports of such incidents can affect the availability of temporary employees needed at election time. So, what’s the United States to do if it no longer can recruit a dependable and diverse cadre of poll workers to help generate a democracy that more fairly represents all Americans? The answer is objective machine automation. Election offices nationwide already rely on automated equipment to save time, increase accuracy, and reduce labor costs. This technology has two major benefits: 1) Automation reduces the number of temporary workers required for staffing during elections, and 2) it frees up officials to spend less time on training–and more time optimizing the process. Voting by Mail (VBM) Trends The use of absentee ballots is a practice that has been in place for over 160 years, since the U.S. Civil War (1861-65). During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, 46% of U.S. voters voted by mail in 2020, reported the Pew Research Center, and 33% did so in the 2022 mid-terms. With so many people now voting by mail, it is more imperative than ever that county election offices implement secure procedures for collecting, imaging, and sorting mail-in ballots. In the next elections, officials will work within legal guidelines to validate and count ballots received by mail and, in many cases, could use some help. Solutions are needed for handling mail-in ballots–either manually or by machines and software like those offered by trusted partners, such as Tritek Solutions. Using automated ballot-scanning machines can significantly reduce errors associated with manual processing and increase voter confidence. For example, Tritek’s ballot envelope-processing system features automation to fit specific needs, thus providing a targeted county office ballot solution that meets each municipality’s unique requirements. Our innovative Correct Elect system offers proprietary, vote-by-mail automation customized to voting-district requirements. The patented systems are proven in the field, having been successfully implemented in numerous cities and counties. With a processing speed of 10,000 to 30,000 per hour, this solution is ideal for jurisdictions that have higher volumes of vote by mail ballot envelopes. Additionally, the Nomad OCR (optical character recognition) document-scanning solution for elections can process up to 3,000 pieces per hour. As a mail-imaging machine, Nomad scans each piece, making it easy to store and archive digital copies. The mail scanner is portable and tabletop-sized, making it easy to move around and plug into any regular 120V AC outlet. Plus, its OCR technology enables it to read every single piece that passes through it, ensuring that nothing gets missed. Remember, whether cast in person or by mail, votes count for people determined to do their civic duties. During the coming election cycles, let Tritek help you employ robust technology to ensure that their ballots are tabulated fairly and accurately!
In today's business world, mailrooms are facing several challenges and one of the biggest is staffing. Seasoned employees are retiring, or they resign, seeking positions more aligned with revised personal priorities. Whatever the reasons, staffing the mailroom today can be difficult. The answer to this problem, as it is with many modern business issues, is technology. In corporate mailrooms, Tritek is the company businesses rely upon to provide the technology they need to handle their organization's new demands for incoming and outbound mail. Tritek offers a wide range of mailroom solutions, including equipment and software that can help mailrooms prepare outbound packages faster and route incoming mail more efficiently. More Work, Fewer People There’s no doubt about the remote working trend spurred by the pandemic being a lasting phenomenon. Companies were resistant at first but now recognize the advantages remote work can offer, and more employees are seeking fully remote or hybrid positions. Besides the effect work-from-home preferences have on the ability to recruit and retain mail center employees, a decentralized work force across the enterprise makes the mail center’s job more difficult. Company mail centers have operated with procedures that worked well for them for decades. Now, managing incoming and outbound business mail have become come logistical challenges for organizations that may handle thousands of mail pieces every month. Transitioning to a system that supports offsite employees, while continuing in their role as a hub for a company’s communications with the outside world, can be a real problem. Critical Business Processes Depend on Mail Some documents typically received in corporate mailrooms, such as legal notices, customer complaints, or last-minute claims documentation, require swift action. A system slowed by the limitations of physical distribution to a widely scattered group of recipients won’t do, especially when that system relied heavily on the knowledge and experience of mail center staffers who may no longer be employed by the organization. Automated Mail Processing Solutions Now that human-dependent legacy solutions are untenable, mailroom managers are turning to automation to bring their organizations up to speed with the rest of the business world. Mailroom automation has many advantages. Efficiency – Manual tasks such as scanning the mail, sorting, and routing can be accomplished by specialized hardware and software that can perform these operations quicker than humans, without taking breaks, getting sick, or going on vacation. Accuracy – Cameras and software for text and image recognition have advanced to the point that systems, such as those offered by Tritek, can read nearly any text regardless of skew or orientation, whether typed, computer-printed, or written by hand. Systems to sort outbound mail or process incoming pieces are less likely to make errors compared to human mailroom staffers. Security – Business rules and permission levels embedded in document processing systems can prevent sensitive information from being seen by unauthorized individuals. Mail pieces can be tracked and accounted for. Compliance with privacy laws can be controlled. Lower Cost – The labor savings are obvious, especially when considering the extra work necessary to correct mis-routed inbound mail, or extra postage if outbound mail is not optimized to take advantage of all the postage discounts the USPS offers. Automated mailroom solutions also offer organizations the opportunity to find and correct previously unrecognized inefficiencies that may never have come to light in a manually dependent operation. Automated systems can collect and report data about mail volumes, throughput, shift performance, mail piece status, and more. Ideal Time to Upgrade Many of Tritek’s clients have been challenged to continue managing their corporate and university mail centers since the pandemic. The changes in the employment market have only made matters worse. Mail centers do not always share in the technology and innovation investments companies have made in other areas of the business, but the time has come to do some upgrades. An updated, technology driven mail center will be more attractive to job candidates who may view mail processing as “old school”. Investing in mailroom automation solutions now is a good long-term strategy for supporting the requirements of modern businesses. Learn More About Automated Mail Processing: Pandemic Increases Inbound Parcel Obligations Robots In Your Mailroom? The Future of Mailroom Automation The Changing Role of Corporate Mailrooms