Better plan for rural post offices

The U.S. Postal Service’s new plan for providing rural residents with new options for keeping their local post offices drew praise from National Newspaper Association this week.

The Postal Service has announced it intends to take another look at its handling of rural post office closings, after taking a battering on Capitol Hill and from rural residents for its earlier plan to close about 3,700 unprofitable offices. Now, it says, it intends to offer communities the opportunity to keep the offices open, but with reduced window hours.

NNA President Reed Anfinson said the new plan is a step in the right direction and that NNA looks forward to learning more details.

“There is a widespread feeling in small towns that the Postal Service is poised to abandon rural America. From reduced delivery times to the ending of Saturday mail to the post office closings, it seemed as if we were running a gantlet of bad news on mail service. Although NNA did not oppose post office closings in general, we recommended a different approach. Our thought was that many of these offices could remain open if USPS used a “circuit-rider” approach for postmasters, staffed the offices with lower-level clerks, and simply kept the offices open for fewer hours. That idea came from our Postal Committee Chairman Max Heath, who testified on it before the Postal Regulatory Commission.

“Although NNA is pleased with Postmaster General Pat Donahoe’s willingness to work with rural communities to keep their post offices open, of continuing and greater concern is the plan for closing more than half the mail processing centers around the country. The proposed cuts would have a devastating impact on the delivery of mail, including newspapers, prescription drugs and packages across rural America. The mail is more important in rural America than in many other spots around the country. For newspapers, it is the key to helping us fulfill our roles as the tribunes of civic engagement.”

The Postal Service said it will file a new plan before the PRC, detailing the options it intends to offer small towns before post offices are closed.

Heath said he hoped the new plan would provide greater detail on how small business mailers like NNA’s community newspapers could enter mail to reach residents on the rural routes served by the reduced hours.

“I feel encouraged by the Postal Service’s announcement. It seems to me as if some of the more Draconian thoughts about cutting service across the board may be recalibrated. I hope we’ll see some of the same openness to flexibility on other important issues to our newspaper mailers,” he said.

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