August 20, 2012

Post Offices: Keeping These Community Hubs

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

As the son of a former postmaster, I have great respect for the role of post offices in our communities.  Given the U.S. Postal Service's (USPS) problematic financial situation, many may be wondering about the continuation of their services.  It is a fair question as discussions continue about how to maintain services while enabling the Postal Service to balance its budget.  The importance of this service, especially in the rural communities that rely on local post offices for business and efficient postal services, requires close consideration of the views of those most affected by the proposals. 

Throughout the 237 years of the Postal Service's existence, Congress has enacted legislation affecting the operation of the Postal Service.  This includes Congress designating the USPS as a self-supporting entity and directing the USPS to provide prompt, reliable and efficient service to all communities.  The law states that the Postal Service "shall provide a maximum degree of effective and regular postal services to rural areas, communities, and small towns where post offices are not self-sustaining.  No small post office shall be closed solely for operating at a deficit, it being the specific intent of the Congress that effective postal services be insured to residents of both urban and rural communities." 

Unfortunately, the Postal Service has been experiencing serious financial challenges in recent times related to declining mail volumes and the difficult economy.  The Postal Service recorded a financial loss of $5.1 billion in fiscal year 2011.  On August 2, 2012, the USPS experienced its first ever default after failing to submit a required $5.5 billion payment for future retirees' health benefits, and another $5.5 billion default is expected next month.  These losses have forced difficult decisions and discussions about how to maintain service while also reducing spending in order to balance the service's budget.

As part of the discussion, the Postal Service proposed initiatives to close thousands of facilities.  This raised concerns throughout many rural communities.  However, in May, the Postmaster General released details of a new five-year plan that seeks to preserve the majority of rural post offices, partly by reducing operating hours.  The plan includes a list of specific post offices to receive reduced office hours.  A list of Idaho post offices with reduced hours can be accessed here: https://www.crapo.senate.gov/documents/post_offices.pdf.  The Postal Service also indicated it will enable rural letter carriers to provide full-service to their customers, including selling stamps and money orders, providing package and mailing services, and enabling some customers to gain home delivery where it is not currently available.     

I encourage those interested in this issue to continue to share your comments through the opportunities made available by the USPS.  All final decisions regarding post office closures or reduced hours will be reviewed by the independent Postal Regulatory Commission, and the USPS expects to have its final proposals implemented by the fall of 2014. 

The answers are far from simple in finding methods for the Postal Service to preserve its important services and prevent it from operating in the red.  However, the importance of the Postal Service to our communities necessitates continued effort to uphold this service.  The Postal Service indicates it delivered 168 billion pieces of mail in 2011, facilitating approximately $10 trillion in commerce.  I encourage your continued input as we work together to ensure that post offices maintain their roles in our communities and our nation's economy. 

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