Proposal would reduce hours, not close rural post offices

Monday, May 14, 2012
Legislation currently being considered by Congress will decide the fate of many rural post offices, like the one in Old Appleton, population 82.

Rural post offices that were threatened with closure instead may have their hours reduced over the next two years, but the fate of the mail processing facility in Cape Girardeau is still in question unless the U.S. House of Representatives acts by Tuesday.

According to a new strategy proposed by the U.S. Postal Service, existing post offices would be kept in place but with modified retail hours to match customer use.

"Meeting the needs of postal customers is, and will always be, a top priority. We continue to balance that by better aligning service options with customer demand and reducing the cost to serve," said Postmaster General and CEO Patrick R. Donahoe by news release Wednesday. "With that said, we've listened to our customers in rural America and we've heard them loud and clear -- they want to keep their Post Office open. We believe today's announcement will serve our customers' needs and allow us to achieve real savings to help the Postal Service return to long-term financial stability."

Rural branches across Southeast Missouri, including those in Dutchtown, Old Appleton, Whitewater, Gordonville, Perkins, Blodgett, Gipsy, Daisy, Brownwood, Sturdivant and Vanduser, would be among the offices previously studied for discontinuation that may see their hours decreased by as much as two-thirds. In Cape Girardeau County, nine offices are being considered for amended services instead of closing four.

Customer access to each branch's retail lobby and to post office boxes would remain unchanged, as would each town's ZIP code.

The USPS is projecting an estimated savings of half a billion dollars annually once the program is fully implemented. The multiphase strategy is planned for completion by September 2014.

Before any changes are made, the Postal Service will submit the plan to the Postal Regulatory Commission for review. Community meetings will also be conducted to explore options in greater detail and residents will be notified by mail of opportunities to meet with Postal Service officials.

The hours-reduction strategy complements existing money-saving alternatives, such as providing mail delivery service to residents and businesses by rural carrier or highway contract route, contracting with a local business to create a village post office and offering service from a nearby post office.

A voluntary early retirement incentive for more than 21,000 nonexecutive postmasters nationwide was also announced.

Also uncertain is whether the Postal Service will extend its voluntary moratorium on facility closures, currently scheduled to end Tuesday. The Richard G. Wilson Processing and Distribution Facility in Cape Girardeau, which employs about 100 people, is among those to be shuttered, though it was listed under the heading "potential to remain open."

The Postal Service ended the first three months of its 2012 fiscal year with a net loss of $3.3 billion. Though federally regulated, it receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations. Chief financial officer Joe Corbett predicted in February that without legislation that would allow it to adjust operations and exercise "normal commercial freedoms," large losses would continue and the Postal Service may reach its $15 billion debt ceiling by fall.

Toward halting any immediate action, the Senate approved April 25 the 21st Century Postal Service Act, which includes an amendment sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., to prevent facility closures for the next 12 months, implement strict guidelines about future closures, reform federal employee compensation benefits and preserve current services and six-day delivery.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson said Friday that making changes to small local facilities is not the solution. Of the strategy proposed by the Postal Service, she said she didn't like it, but that it was far better than closing local offices.

"This is not where the big money is, that's what really bothers me," Emerson said. She thinks that the Postal Service's "top-heavy management structure" and excess of regional and district offices are to blame for its financial woes.

Emerson said she feels the Senate bill is preferable to a House reform bill that has not yet come into committee. The House bill includes office closures and a five-day delivery week.

According to a news release issued Thursday, McCaskill has asked the House to take action and for the Postal Service to continue to delay closure of any facilities beyond the Tuesday deadline.

"I'm encouraged that the fight we've been waging on behalf of our rural communities is starting to change minds, and the Postal Service is finally starting to think creatively about how to reduce costs without robbing our rural communities of vital services," McCaskill said in the release. "But the best option is for the U.S. House to stop stalling and act on the legislation passed by the Senate to put the Postal Service finances in order, along with my plan to save our small towns from losing their post offices. I plan to keep waging this fight on behalf of Missouri families and businesses, until I'm sure that they'll be able to continue relying on their post offices."

Richard Watkins, corporate communications officer for the USPS, said an update on facility closures is expected by the end of the week.


Pertinent address:

475 Kell Farm Drive, Cape Girardeau, MO

Dutchtown, MO

Old Appleton, MO

Whitewater, MO

Daisy, MO

Perkins, MO

Blodgett, MO

Gipsy, MO

Daisy, MO

Brownwood, MO

Sturdivant, MO

Vanduser, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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