It is very important that several people in attendance DOCUMENT what is said by the USPS Rep. in case your community needs to appeal the final decision to the Postal Regulatory Commission. (Info on Page 9 of the NAPUS Red Book)
Submit your local Petitions and Comments
IF/WHEN a PO Box customer receives the letter from the USPS regarding the town meeting, the original petitions should be sent in a timely manner to the USPS District Manager with courtesy copies to the USPS Area Vice President. Copies should also be sent to the closest in-state office of both U.S. Senators and your U.S. Representative and to the Governor and State Senator(s) and Representative(s) for your area. It is OK to FAX the petitions but you must also send a hard copy showing that you do use your Post Office.
In Montana the Petitions and Comments may be submitted to:
Manager, Post Office Operations
841 South 26th Street
Billings, MT 59101
USPS Montana District Manager
P.O. Box 7500
Sioux Falls, SD 57117
More advice and instructions are available on the www.napus.org web site, including sample letters that may be helpful to your community.
For more Information:
(Mrs.) Keva Richardson , Acting Chair, NAPUS Post Office Preservation Committee
2372 Waubonsie Av, Thurman IA 51654
(Keva Richardson is a retired Iowa Postmaster and volunteer with the National Association of Postmasters of the United States (NAPUS) to help small rural communities where the United States Postal Service (USPS ) has already, or may in the future take adverse action against a post office.)
Story Update (10/09/11):
Twisted Government Accounting behind Postal Service woes
Is this an artificial Financial Crisis based on Budget Politics?
You might have heard that the United States Postal Service is in trouble: that it's losing billions, that it will have to end Saturday service and close branches — and most inflammatory, that it might need a government bailout. Perhaps you heard that the Postal Service couldn't pay $5.5 billion bill that came due Sept. 30 and that only an emergency postponement saved it from the government's equivalent of default."
In fact, it's the Postal Service that’s currently bailing out the U.S. government. Politicians have been raiding Postal Service revenues for years, using them to make the federal deficit appear smaller than it really is. The fiscal gyrations are so twisted that the Postal Service is right now forced to pre-pay health care benefits for employees the agency hasn't even hired yet — in fact, for many future employees who haven't even been born yet — all to artificially shrink the federal deficit.
It's these crushing accounting tricks, not the cost of delivering mail, that has pushed this 200-year-old institution to the brink.
Welcome to the wacky world of Washington, D.C., accounting.
There's a long and a short story to the tragic tale of Postal Service financial trouble. I'll start with the short one. Right now, the Postal Service is being forced to pre-pay health benefits for the next 75 years during a 10-year stretch. In the past four years, those prepayments have totaled $21 billion. The agency's deficit during that time is about $20 billion. Remove these crazy pre-payments — a requirement that no other government agency endures and no private industry would even consider — and the Postal Service would be in the black.
Of course, it's not quite that simple. And no one denies that the rise of e-mail has meant the fall of first-class mail, creating a real long-term challenge to USPS relevancy. But the current fiscal "crisis" is entirely manufactured by the Washington way — in fact, the payment missed on Sept. 30 represents this year's tithe to the federal deficit, disguised as health care benefits layaway for a mail carrier the agency might not hire until the year 2060.
The controversy over the future of the post office has been slowly coming to a head, and it reached a fever pitch around the Sept. 30 payment, meant to satisfy this year’s health care pre-payment costs. The agency begged for a delay, which it received — but that led to detractors’ calling for immediate reforms, such as post office closings and the elimination of Saturday delivery. But supporters have rallied to the agency’s side — about 500 rallies were held last week all around the country in support of the agency.
Meanwhile, some advocates are desperately trying to call attention to the USPS’s unique budget situation, which is not quite the crisis it appears.
“It is clear that these prepayments for future retiree health care benefits are — at this point — the primary reason for the U.S. Postal Service's financial crisis,” Ralph Nader wrote in a letter to Congress last week. “In fact, simply looking at the numbers reveals that the Postal Service's ‘financial crisis’ is in fact an entirely manufactured crisis.”
Why would the Postal Service find itself in this crazy arrangement, bleeding red ink today so it can pay for employees’ health benefits 50, 60, or 75 years from now? Believe it or not, there is an explanation, but it's not so simple — delivered with fair warning from Jim Sauber, chief of staff of the National Association of Letter Carriers."It takes a long time to explain how crazy and complicated it is," he said.
But a quick tour into this fiscal crisis is incredibly instructive as to the ways of Washington, and failing to understand it might mean someday soon you won’t get mail at your house any longer.
First, it's important to note that the USPS is financially self-sufficient. Since the 1970s, it has been mandated by Congress to operate entirely on its own revenue, with no taxpayer money. It's an enormous agency — with $65 billion in annual revenue, it would be a Fortune 50 company if it were a private entity. As a quasi-government agency, it enjoys privileged fiscal status — its revenue and expenses are "off budget," meaning Congress isn't supposed to be able to toy with them. It shares this privileged state with only one other government entity: the Social Security Trust Fund. But as you know, Congress finds a way to toy with everything.
In 2006, Congress passed the "Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act" to modernize the agency's stamp-price-setting tools and a host of other elements of mail delivery. That law set up this seemingly crazy health care prepayment fund.
To bean counters at the U.S. Treasury Department, however, the fund made perfect sense. It was a crazy arrangement to cover for another crazy arrangement the Postal Service escaped in 2006.
When former members of the U.S. military take a government job, their military service counts as annual credits toward pension eligibility. This holds true when service members take postal jobs — but who pays for the value of those credits? In 2006, the Postal Service was shouldering that cost on its balance sheet, even though there was general agreement that the Treasury Department should be responsible for pension credit earned prior to employment with the Postal Service. The 2006 law shifted the burden from the USPS, but that meant an addition burden on the Treasury — that is, it would have added to the federal deficit. So to balance out that negative on Treasury's balance sheet, the Postal Service was ordered to make health care pre-payments equivalent to the cost of the pension cost shift.
The problem of military pension credits itself was a creation of just such a deficit-hiding accounting trick. In 2002, an audit of the USPS budget found it had overpaid into the federal government's pension plan by roughly $80 billion. Postal Service officials lobbied hard have its pension payments readjusted. They were, in 2003, but in order to make the shift revenue neutral, military pension credit costs were shifted from Treasury to the USPS.
In the middle part of the last decade, the Postal Service was so awash in operating cash that the 10-year tithe to the federal government seemed a small price to pay for a promise that the crazy cost shifting would be over in a decade. In the meantime, the cash played a small but measurable part in reducing the federal deficit.
"But it became very clear that these payments were unaffordable once the economy tanked," Sauber said. In short order, the health care prepayments became “a million-pound weight” on the Postal Service budget.
Sauber and other Postal Service advocates say the Postal Service would have no trouble balancing its own budget if Congress and the Treasury Department stopped adding billions to its annual expenses through fiscal maneuvering.
Still, powerful forces have gathered in an attempt to use this budget bickering as an excuse to reform the post office dramatically. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the Republicans’ top government cost-cutting advocate in the House and head of the powerful Committee on Oversight, has introduced legislation that would dramatically alter the agency. His Postal Reform Act of 2011 would end Saturday delivery, create a commission to study post office closings and create a Solvency Authority that could break union contracts if the agency fell into the red.
Last month, President Barack Obama proposed that the Post Office end Saturday delivery. His proposal offered some relief from health care prepayments, but it merely by spreading the costs out over a longer period of time. Issa responded by calling Obama's plan a "thinly veiled attempt to offset continued operating losses with a taxpayer-funded bailout."
Others have advocated complete dismantling of the service, turning mail delivery over entirely to private industry. Rarely do those arguing against mention that the Postal Service starts its year in a hole designed to hide a portion of the federal deficit.
A Heritage Foundation report
published last month called "You've Got (No) Mail: Is the End Near for the Post Service?" indicated that the agency "barely avoided default" and was down to "a week's worth of cash."
"Congress should act quickly to address this not-so-slow-motion postal train wreck. The goal, however, should not be to ‘save’ USPS or even to save mail delivery," the report said. It mentioned the pension overpayments but made no mention of the health care costs prepayment, and it concluded that the USPS cannot survive unless supported by "tens of billions of dollars in subsidy."
Sauber says it’s hard to counter such arguments with a long discussion of Washington accounting tricks.
"It's so much easier to say, ‘Oh, it’s the Internet.’ That seems obvious, but that's not really what's going on,” he said. “It is frustrating for letter carriers to have to deal with all this misinformation. … It’s easy to demagogue on this, for people who don’t like government workers to say the Postal Service is failing because it’s a government agency. But in this case the easy explanation isn’t the right explanation."
The postal workers' union favors legislation proposed by Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., that would allow the agency to access overpayments to the federal pension system, and to restructure its health care prepayments, to solve its immediate budget woes.
"Congress created this problem, and Congress can fix it," the ads say.
Sauber doesn't deny that the Postal Service has problems. Revenue shrank from $74 billion to $67 billion from 2008 to 2010. Mail volume plummeted from 202 billion to 170 billion pieces during that same stretch, a 22 percent fall. While the drop parallels the recession, common sense dictates that even a robust economic recovery probably won't lead to an increase in handwritten love letters.
But Sauber says the rise of the Internet has created almost as many opportunities as problems for the Post Office — package delivery from online shopping has soared, for example. Meanwhile, the agency has shrunk full-time employee ranks from 663,000 to 583,000.
The Postal Service hasn’t always done itself any favors — long lines, unhelpful employees and stories of double-dipping by pensioners feed the public’s notion that change is needed.
"We know we have to change. But the right way to do that is to clear up this artificial fiscal crisis now, survive the recession and then see where we are," he said, "not to gut the Postal Service now based on misinformation and budget politics."
Story Update (10/04/11):
Baucus Introduces Bill to Save Rural Post Offices
Punishing Rural Communities Not the Solution to Financial Troubles
(Washington, D.C.) – Montana’s senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus introduced a bill today to address the most serious financial burden threatening to push the Postal Service into default. At the same time, the bill also prevents the Postal Service from closing the most remote rural Post Offices.
“The Postal Service has serious budget troubles to tackle, and Congress has a responsibility to play its part. This bill provides the life preserver the Postal Service needs to stay above water while we work together to find longer-term solutions to preserve the postal services and jobs Montanans depend on,” Baucus said.
Baucus’ bill builds on legislation introduced in the House of Representatives by adding the protection for rural offices. Postal workers recently rallied in support of the House bill at Post Offices across Montana.
Baucus’ Bill does two things:
1. Prevents the Postal Service from closing any Post Office where another office is not available within 10 miles
The Postal Service has claimed that nationwide 90 percent of the post offices they are studying for closure are within 10 miles of another post office. Baucus has pointed out that among the 85 rural Montana offices the Post Office is studying, approximately 90 percent are actually farther than 10 miles from another office. And in some cases the next nearest office is also being studied for closure.
2. Provide the Postal Service approximately $7 billion in financial relief to avoid default this year
The Postal Service is currently required to pre-fund it’s retiree health benefits. Postmaster Patrick Donahoe has said the upcoming $5.5 billion payment threatens to push the Postal Service into default. At the same time, it is estimated the Postal Service has overpaid into another retirement fund, the Federal Employee Retirement System, by approximately $6.9 billion. Baucus’ bill would require the Office of Personnel Management to calculate the exact overpayment the Postal Service has made and use that money to cover the Postal Service’s current payment into the retiree health benefits fund and ease the burden of next year’s payment. Baucus also supported a provision in the recently passed Continuing Resolution to delay the immediate health benefits payment while Congress works towards a longer-term solution.
Full text of Baucus’ bill is available HERE.
Today’s bill is the latest in Baucus’ continued efforts to keep rural Montana Post Offices open and ensure Montanans are heard in the process.
To view a LIST of Post Office Community Meetings CLICK HERE.
Contact: Kate Downen 406-224-5056/Jenny Donohue 202-224-2651/Kathy Weber 406-329-3123
Story Update (9/18/11:
Congress: Closing Post Offices "Wrong"Way" to go
Instead, read the ideas in this letter signed by 82 lawmakers
On September 15th, a letter signed by 82 Members of Congress was set to Ruth Goldway, who Chairs the Postal Regulatory Commission.
The letter says that widespread post office closures are the wrong way to deal with the Postal Service’s financial problems, and would have severe negative impacts. Village Post Offices do not fill the void.
The premise that drastic cuts in costs are the only way to remain solvent in inaccurate according to these leaders in Congress. Instead they suggest changes like:
- Lifting the requirement that the Postal Service pre-fund 100% of employee retirement and retirement health costs, which was imposed by Congress in 2006
- Allow the Postal Service to use some of the $50 to $75 Billion that they have overpaid to the Treasury in the last 30 years
- Remove restrictions and allow the Postal Service to sell postal related shipment products
More than 80 US Congressmen have written to America’s postal regulator to state their belief that closing thousands of post offices is the “wrong way” to deal with financial problems at the US Postal Service.
The letter signed by 75 Democrats and seven Republicans in the House of Representatives said they appreciated the need to change the USPS business model to protect its viability.
But, the lawmakers insisted that the widespread USPS retail network was actually a competitive advantage.
USPS is looking to close as many as 3,653 in this year’s round of retail “optimisation”, although many more of its 32,000-strong post office network could go in future years.
Members of Congress naturally stand up against postal facility closures in their districts, although on this occasion the Postal Service needs support on Capitol Hill for reforms in other areas if it is to return to long-term financial stability.
Writing to the Postal Regulatory Commission, which is reviewing the plans to potentially shutter 3,653 post offices, the 82 Congressmen said the closure plans would have a “severe” negative impact on rural America.
They said the concept of “village post offices” – postal counters run within partner facilities like grocery stores or gas stations – “will not fill this void and do not offer all regular postal services”.
The letter to the Commission went further in criticizing USPS plans, casting doubt on the assumption that “drastic” cuts in costs was the only way to maintain the solvency of the Postal service.
Instead, the Congressmen said they would back a repeal of the Postal Service’s $5.5bn annual obligation to prefund its future retiree benefits, and the return of up to $75bn in retirement fund overpayments.
They would also support more flexibility for USPS to offer a wider range of products, including wine and beer shipment services.
“Congress should allow the Postal Service to operate like a business, rather than punish rural America for the strictures that Congress placed on the Postal Service in 2006,” the letter stated.
The letter to the regulators came yesterday as the Postal Service unveiled details of its plan to close up to 252 mail processing plants
across the country, which will cause further angst within a Congress that is focused on the issue of jobs and the economy at the moment.
Senator Thomas Carper, who is leading efforts to pass comprehensive postal reform legislation, noted that some of the processing plants on the list were in his own state of Delaware.
He would be paying close attention to ensure the review of such facilities is conducted fairly, he said. But the Senator pointedly did not state that the Postal Service should not be reviewing those facilities for closure.
Carper said: “This dramatic step of proposing to close hundreds of distribution centers around the country underscores again the very dire financial challenges it faces.
“The hard truth is that, if nothing is done, the Postal Service is going to lose $10 billion this year. Congress and the Administration must act quickly to help the Postal Service save itself. Failure to act will result in the Postal Service being insolvent within a year, if not sooner, bringing more pain to communities across the country and wreaking havoc on our already fragile economy,” added Senator Carper.
Earlier this week, the Senator wrote to President Obama urging him to act quickly on the USPS troubles, since the Postal Service “will have difficulty making payroll in October”.
Carper urged the White House to return pension overpayments, restructure prefunding requirements, allow elimination of Saturday delivery and new revenue opportunities for USPS.
List of Proposed Facilities to be Shut Down
Washington (CNN) -- Hundres of mail handling facilities, including four in Montana, have been named in a shutdown list released Thursday by the U.S. Postal Service as the agency tries to cut massive red ink. The four Montana facilities on the closing list are Butte, Havre, Helena, and Miles City. Click here to view the full list of processing sites that are being proposed for closure.
Story Update (9/15/11):
Congressman Denny Rehberg Focuses on Post Office Closures
- Hundreds respond to special "Mail Call Montana" Initiative
John Walton talks with Congressman Rehberg.
Montana’s Congressman, Denny Rehberg, has released a sample of the comments he has received from Montanans who have responded to Rehberg’s “Mail Call Montana Initiative,” a grassroots campaign to gather comments about the U.S. Postal Service’s (USPS) proposal to close more than 90 rural post offices across Montana. Rehberg encouraged Montanans to mail letters to his Billings District Office from threatened post offices detailing how a proposed closure would affect their families, communities, and businesses. Rehberg launched the initiative less than two weeks ago (August 29) and has already received vocal opposition to the USPS’s plan through letters and public comments from Montanans.
“From Helmville to Brockway, Montanans have been weighing in on the need for the Post Office to re-evaluate its proposals and not balance its books on the backs of rural Montanans,” said Rehberg. “When it comes to solving problems, Montana common sense is usually the solution, and that’s the case with the comments I’ve been receiving. I want to thank those who have supported their local post offices and sent me their comments and concerns. I will make sure that Montana’s voice is heard in Washington.”
In addition to Rehberg’s Mail Call Montana Initiative, Rehberg’s Montana staff has been gathering comments at over a dozen well-attended public meetings the postal service has recently conducted in the affected communities.
“Montanans know that the Postal Service has to get a handle on its costs, but that has to happen across the board,” Rehberg added. “Folks are strongly suggesting the USPS can find better ways to cut its budget and payroll other than eliminating rural post offices.”
Here are edited exerts from some of the comments received by mail and at the public meetings:
There is no cell phone service in Stryker. The Post Office is the only public place for people to get help - Stryker
I receive my insulin through the mail. It’s not something I can get in large quantities - Olney
Consider adjusting the local hours so the Post Office is open when I come home from my commute. That would increase revenue here because I would rather use my local Post Office – Elliston
A town without a Post Office becomes a ghost town - Dixon
The distance from Alzada to the nearest nearby Post Office is 72 miles to Ekalaka, MT and 50 miles to Camp Crook, SD, which is not even in the state of Montana - Alzada
We feel this is a discrimination against the rural communities. Why should the rural community suffer the burden of the financial mismanagement of the USPS - Billings
We suggest delivering mail on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays, but keep the Post Offices open in the small rural areas - Trout Creek
The people in Montana are paying through the nose for gas as it is, and driving this extra amount would be a real burden -Wyola
Outdoor lock boxes would expose our medications to excessive heat or cold depending on the season and some are sensitive to temperature changes - Stryker
Keep the Post Office open, at least some of the time. In this age of computers, even an elderly woman like me does not need to depend on daily mail incoming or outgoing -Libby
Our rural Post offices probably provide more service for the money than any government entity - Ovando
Junk mail constitutes thousands of tons of mail across the state of MT, making up the overwhelming majority of the weight sent through the postal service, and this junk mail is sent at deeply discounted postal rates. Raise the rates for junk mail - Lewistown
Get real and move into the current world. Create jobs and support enterprise by privatizing the mail service and get the government out of it -Dillon
With the PO gone, there is a great loss of history at a lot of these locations - Polson
Montana should not receive special favors. If you want to cut the deficit, cuts should apply to all 50 states……and no earmarks -Billings
We have poor cell phone service and poor internet service so we depend on the post office for communication – Alzada
A petition with 77 signatures protesting any change in the present status was received from residents who use the Post Office in Outlook, which, according to the 2010 Census, has a population of 47.
NOTE From Congressman Rehberg:
As you may have heard, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has proposed closing over 90 post offices in Montana in an attempt to address their financial challenges.
I wanted to take this opportunity to get your thoughts and to share with you some of mine. I’m concerned about how the closure of so many local offices will affect Montanans who depend on their services every day for personal and business purposes. While I appreciate the Postal Services’ attempt to reduce costs and the challenges it faces, I want to make sure they recognize how each of Montana’s post offices and employees serve as vital link for folks across the state. Montanans are willing to be part of the solution, but any changes in the system should not mean one day of decreased mail delivery services.
One of the alternatives the Postal Service has proposed is something they have termed the “Village Post Office.” In some locations where a post office has been closed, other local businesses would offer some frequently-used postal services and products.
This is why I want to hear from you. Maybe you depend on the local post office to receive your medication, or to send products around the world for your local business. How will the closure of your local office affect you? Will not having your local office affect your ability to receive your mail and packages in the middle of a Montana winter? Would you be satisfied with the alternative “village post office” concept the Postal Service has proposed?
I’ve told the Postal Service time and time again that they need to listen to Montanans who have thoughts about the proposed closures before making any sudden decisions to close the offices that people depend on every day. The Postal Service should not expect to balance their books on the backs of rural America.
Please take a few minutes to write down your thoughts and send them to me from your local post office. I’ll collect the comments from all across Montana to deliver to the Postal Service.
The address for my Billings office is:
Mail Call Montana Initiative c/o Denny Rehberg
1201 Grand Avenue, Suite #1
Billings, MT 59102
Story Update (9/11/11): U.S. Postal Service Near Financial Collapse
- Union blames 2006 requirement to pre-fund health benefits
(The following article is reprinted with permission from from “Budget & Tax News”, published by The Heartland Institute, October 2011)
The U.S. Postal Service says it may layoff 120,000 workers, remove collective bargaining restrictions, and rework employees' health insurance and pension programs for employees.
The requests to Congress, made public Aug. 11, come as the result of billions of dollars of operating losses, including more than $3 billion of losses from April through June of this year. The USPS estimates its losses for the full fiscal year ending September 30 will top $8.3 billion.
The USPS stated it might default on payments to the federal government for the pension portion of the Federal Employees Retirement System. The postal service does not receive tax dollars. Revenue comes from selling postal services.
‘Past Brink of Insolvency’
"The United States Postal Service, our nation's second-largest employer, is now past the brink of insolvency. This would not be tolerated in a private company,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, in a press statement.
“Incredibly, the unprecedented action to suspend these [pension] payments will only offer USPS an additional $800 million through the end of the year in liquidity, not even 10 percent of their projected deficit of $8.3 billion. USPS needs fundamental structural and financial reforms to cut costs and protect taxpayers from an expensive bailout." "
Union Blasts Proposed Changes
American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey said in a statement the union “will vehemently oppose any attempt to destroy the collective bargaining rights of postal employees or tamper with our recently negotiated contract. Crushing postal workers and slashing service will not solve the Postal Service’s financial crisis. “As we have pointed out many times,” he added, “postal employees are not the cause of the crisis.”
He blamed the financial problems at the USPS on a provision of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 “that requires the Postal Service to pre-fund the healthcare benefits of future retirees — a burden no other government agency or private company bears.”
The mandate requires the USPS to fund a 75-year liability over a 10-year period and costs the USPS more than $5.5 billion per year.
Guffey also said the federal government is holding billions of dollars in postal overpayments to its pension accounts.
Postmaster General’s Requests
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has been trying to persuade Congress to alter the pension prefunding mandate. And he is asking for permission to tap into the pension account overpayments.
H.R. 1351, introduced by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) would allow the postal service to use the overpayments and the pre-funding monies. It would also keep workers’ collective bargaining rights and make no changes to wages, benefits or layoff protections.
Issa in June introduced a bill to fundamentally reform how the postal service operates and stop any government bailout.
He said the increasing use of electronic, paper-free technology “has caused a permanent decline in mail usage and the Postal Service must adapt its outdated brick-and-mortar model to meet current customer needs. Only serious cost-cutting structural reforms that reduce workforce costs and right-size infrastructure can save the Postal Service and prevent a multi-billion taxpayer funded bailout.”
100,000 Workers Already Gone
In a letter to members of Congress in June, Donahoe and the USPS Board of Governors stated the USPS has cut more than 100,000 workers and saved $12 billion in operating costs over the last four years. But the savings apparently are not enough to stave off possible collapse of the postal service.
Mail volume in that time has dropped 20 percent, and despite the savings, operating losses over that time have totaled approximately $20 billion, according to documents the USPS has sent Congress.
"The Postal Service is facing dire economic challenges that threaten its very existence and, therefore, threaten the livelihoods of our employees and the businesses and employees in the broader postal industry and overall economy" a USPS document on workforce reduction said.
In July the USPS released a list of 3,700 post offices across the country it said should be closed because of inefficiencies. The list caused a backlash among people in communities targeted for post office closings.
The postal service has also proposed ending Saturday deliveries.
Steve Stanek (email@example.com) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Budget & Tax News.
Story Update (9/8/11): Baucus Invites Post Master General to Montana
Here is the letter Max Baucus sent to Patrick Donahoe September 8th.
(Washington, D.C.) – Montana’s senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus called today on Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe to attend one of the Postal Service’s public meetings on rural office closure in Montana. Baucus also urged Donahoe to make the complete meeting schedule public quickly so Montanans have adequate notice and the Postal Service has adequate time to consider the feedback at length before any decisions are made.
“The best way for the Postmaster to understand the importance of Post Offices in rural Montana communities is to see for himself, and that’s just what he needs to do before making this important decision. So, I’m inviting him to come enjoy Big Sky country in the Fall – drive our rural roads, hear from his Montana customers and workers firsthand, and see the unique challenges rural communities face,” Baucus said.
The Postal Service has claimed that nationwide 90 percent of the post offices they are studying for closure are within 10 miles of another post office. Baucus pointed out that among the 85 rural Montana offices the Post Office is studying, approximately 90 percent are actually farther than 10 miles from another office. And in some cases the next nearest office is also being studied for closure.
Baucus sent a letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, strongly opposing the closures when USPS first announced . He’s asking concerned Montanans to join him by attending public meetings in their communities and sending their comments to USPS Montana District Manager John Diperi at P.O. Box 7500, Sioux Falls, SD 57117. Baucus has also created an online Resource Guide to help Montanans access more information on the closings and meetings in their communities.
Text of the letter Baucus sent yesterday follows below:
September 7, 2011
Mr. Patrick Donahoe
United States Postal Service
475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Room 10022
Washington, DC 20260
Dear Postmaster General Donahoe:
I am writing you to follow up on my serious concerns about the studies being conducted by the United States Postal Service which could lead to the closing of up to 85 rural Montana post offices. I share the belief with many Montanans that these proposed closures would be devastating blows to many rural communities, and want to be sure that public comment on these closures is taken into account at every level of the Postal Service’s decision making process.
Of the 85 Montana communities with post offices being studied for closure, my understanding is that the Postal Service has so far held about ten public meetings, and has scheduled an additional seven in the next three weeks. I strongly encourage the Postal Service to schedule the remaining meetings as soon as possible, so that Montanans have adequate notice of meetings in their communities and the Postal Service has adequate time to consider the feedback at length before any decisions are made. Additionally, I would ask that you come to Montana to attend at least one of these public meetings. This is a chance for you and the Postal Service to hear directly from Montanans and to better understand how dramatically the proposed changes in postal operations will affect the quality of life in rural communities.
When we met in May, I emphasized to you that Montana is a rural state. We have great distances between our towns and between our neighbors. The Postal Service estimates that approximately 90 percent of the post offices they are studying for closure nationwide are within 10 miles of another post office, which would generally allow post office customers to use another nearby post office if their local post office is closed. However, I want to be sure that you recognize that 75 of the 85 post offices in Montana being studied for closure, nearly 90 percent, are 10 miles or more from the nearest post office. And in some areas, the next-closest post offices are also being studied for closure.
You mentioned in May that Montana was one of the few states that you had never been to, and that you would like to visit sometime soon. Fall is a great time to visit Big Sky country. Driving our roads firsthand and seeing our rural communities would help you put the impacts of the proposed Montana closures in perspective as you set about making many difficult decisions. I heard it loud and clear from folks back home who are passionate about this issue that they oppose these changes, and I think it is important that they be heard all the way at the top before any decision are made.
I look forward to working with you to find long-term solutions to put the Postal Service on sustainable financial footing without taking away critically important jobs or disproportionately affecting mail service in rural communities. Thank you for your consideration of this request.
Story Update (9/6/11): Senate Committee Examines Postal Service
- Two Senate Bills, USPS proposals explained
WASHINGTON – On Tuesday, September 6th, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Federal Financial Management Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del.,praised Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe for offering a bold plan that attempts to stave off the U.S. Postal Service’s (USPS) imminent bankruptcy. But they did not endorse all of his proposals.
At a hearing entitled “U.S. Postal Service in Crisis: Proposals to Prevent a Postal Shutdown,” the Senators heard testimony for and against those proposals, which include shrinking the Postal Service workforce by 220,000 and eliminating Saturday delivery service. Carper and Collins each have introduced reform legislation to keep the USPS solvent, and three bills are pending in the House.
Without a legislative resolution, the Postal Service could default on a $5.5 billion payment to a federal government retiree fund as early as next month. If no long-term changes are made, the Postal Service will run out of money by next August or September and could possibly stop delivering mail.
Lieberman said the Committee would debate legislation as soon as possible after the White House submits its own proposal.
“It’s hard to believe it has come to this,” said Lieberman. “The U.S. Postal Service is not an 18th Century relic. It is a 21st Century national asset. I have an open mind on the various proposals that have been made but the bottom line for me is that we must act quickly to prevent a Postal Service collapse and then carefully enact a bold plan to secure its future. If nothing is done, the Postal Service will run out of money and be forced to severely slash service and employees. That is the last thing our struggling economy needs and the last thing our country needs.”
Collins said: “The USPS is seeking far-reaching legislation to allow the Postal Service to establish its own health benefits program, administer its own retirement system, and lay off its employees. This is a remarkable turnabout from its previous proposals. I appreciate that the Postal Service has now proposed several ‘Big Picture’ ideas, but many details remain unclear. As we search for remedies, we must keep in mind a critical fact: The Postal Service plays an essential role in our national economy. The Postal Service has to preserve the value and service it provides to its customers while significantly cutting costs and streamlining operations. The major solution to the financial crisis should be found in tackling more significant expenses that do not drive customers away and lead to further reductions in volume.”
Carper said: “The situation facing the Postal Service is dire, but it is not hopeless. There is a way the Postal Service can get through this crisis. We need a bipartisan, bicameral consensus around the reforms necessary to restructure the Postal Service’s finances and transform its operations to reflect the uncertain future it faces. Congress and the administration must work together and focus on the areas of agreement and build a package that is humane, smart and effective, and that can prevent postal default and insolvency and set the Postal Service on track towards stability.”
A combination of business lost to the internet and the nation’s economic problems has led to a 22 percent drop in mail with a revenue loss for the USPS of more than $10 billion over the past five years. This year the Postal Service will run up an $8 billion deficit for the second year in a row.
The Postal Service also will bump up against its $15 billion credit line with the U.S. Treasury soon, which could force it to default on a $5.5 billion payment into the health care fund for its retirees scheduled for the end of this month.
Donahoe says the USPS would save $20 billion and return to solvency by 2015 if it eliminates Saturday delivery; closes approximately 3,700 post offices; shrinks its workforce by 220,000; pulls out of the federal employee health care plan and creates its own; does away with a defined benefit retirement plan for new employees, offering them instead a defined contribution plan; and requests the return of $6.9 billion in overpayments to the Federal Employee Retirement System.
So much of the nation’s progress is interwoven with Postal history. A lot of the roads we use today – like I-95 – started out as colonial-era Post Roads. As our nation pushed west before the railroads were built, the Post Office created the Pony Express to keep the nation connected with its frontiers. And the Post Office’s subsidies for air mail in the early days of aviation helped jump start the fledgling airline industry.
Through the centuries, the Postal Service not only helped stitch together the nation, moving commerce and culture coast to coast and to all points in between, it also bound together our towns and neighborhoods, with the local Post Office often serving as a center of civic life – and many still do.
In addition to Donahoe, witnesses at the hearing included John Berry, Director of the Office of Personnel Management; Phillip Herr, Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues at the Government Accountability Office; Thomas Levy, Senior Vice President and Chief Actuary at The Segal Company; Cliff Guffey, President American Postal Workers Union; Louis Atkins, President National Association of Postal Supervisors; Ellen Levine, Editorial Director, Hearst Magazines; and Tonda Rush, Director of Public Policy at the National Newspaper Association.
Committee Contact: Leslie Phillips (202) 224-2627
Want the details? View the actual testimony of any of the following Witnesses who testified on Tuesday, September 6, 2011 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room SD-342
Witnesses - Panel 1
- The Honorable Patrick R. Donahoe [view testimony]
Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer
U.S. Postal Service
- The Honorable John Berry [view testimony]
U.S. Office of Personnel Management
- Phillip R. Herr [view testimony]
Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues
U.S. Government Accountability Office
- Thomas D. Levy [view testimony]
Senior Vice President and Chief Actuary
The Segal Company
Witnesses - Panel 2
- Cliff Guffey [view testimony]
American Postal Workers Union
- Louis M. Atkins [view testimony]
National Association of Postal Supervisors
- Ellen Levine [view testimony]
Editorial Director, Hearst Magazines
- Tonda F. Rush [view testimony]
Director of Public Policy
National Newspaper Association
Story Update (9/4/11):
On Tuesday at Noon Mountain Time, the issue of possible Post Office Closures will be the subject of a Congressional Hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
The hearing is titled:
“U.S. Postal Service in Crisis: Proposals to Prevent a Postal Shutdown”
You can watch the LIVE video of the Tuesday Hearing at 12:00 Noon – Mountain Time (Live video will not be available until approximately 15 minutes prior to the scheduled hearing start time).
CLICK HERE to Watch the LIVE Video Feed of this Hearing.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
02:00 PM (Eastern Time)
Dirksen Senate Office Building, room SD-342
• The Honorable Patrick R. Donahoe
Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer
U.S. Postal Service
• The Honorable John Berry
U.S. Office of Personnel Management
• Phillip R. Herr
Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues
U.S. Government Accountability Office
• Thomas D. Levy
Senior Vice President and Chief Actuary
The Segal Company
• Cliff Guffey
American Postal Workers Union
• Louis M. Atkins
National Association of Postal Supervisors
• Ellen Levine
Editorial Director, Hearst Magazines
• Tonda F. Rush
Director of Public Policy
National Newspaper Association
Story Update (9/2/11): Ret Postmaster Janet Erfle on Statewide Talk Show
On todays show of Voices of Montana Jon Arneson spoke with guest Janice Erfle, retired Postmaster from Rapelje, Montana. She discusses post office closures and what you can do to help prevent Post Offices from closing.
Listen to Segment 1
Listen to Segment 2
To see a map of the at risk Post Offices in our region click HERE.
OR to see the full Nationwide list by state, CLICK HERE.
Below you will find many links to many different resources to help keep Rural Post Offices open.
Story Update (9/1/11): Post Office Fighting Guide by Senator Baucus
On August 31st Montana’s senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus launched an online Resource Guide to help Montanans access information about proposed rural postal closings and make their voices heard in the process. Baucus tracked down information from the U.S. Postal Service to launch the guide after hearing concerns from Montanans about lack of information and transparency in the process during his recent trip to Eastern Montana.
“Montanans know just how important rural Post Offices are for our jobs and communities, and it’s up to us to make sure postal bureaucrats do too. I’m doing all I can to pass along the concerns I’m hearing from folks on the ground and I’m asking Montanans to join me by logging on to learn more and make their voices heard,” said Baucus.
The online Resource Guide is part of Baucus longstanding efforts to protect Montana’s Post Offices and the vital jobs and services they support. Baucus sent a letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, strongly opposing the closures when USPS announced 85 rural Montana Post Offices to be studied in July. He’s asking concerned Montanans to join him by sending their comments to USPS Montana District Manager John Diperi at P.O. Box 7500, Sioux Falls, SD 57117.
Montanans can access the Resource Guide through Baucus’ website, www.baucus.senate.gov, at the top of the homepage under “hot topics.” Baucus will continue leading efforts to make sure the Postal Service understands the value rural Post Offices hold in Montana and updating the Resource Guide as new information becomes available.
Story Update (8/31/11): Post Office Preservation Commitee Red Book Guide
A nationwide effort is underway to evaluate closing over 3600 local Post Offices, including 85 in Montana and 44 in Wyoming. Last Friday we posted this story on our website, and since then it has just exploded!
If you are feeling helpless, and wondering what to do to try to have some influence over this process, you are not alone. The proposal to consider closing thousands of rural Post offices is a somewhat confusing process, and one that many people are struggling to understand.
There is an organization called the National Association of Postmasters that has formed a "Post Office Preservation Committee". This group has published a very handy guide that provides the information necessary in the event a post office comes under consideration for closing or consolidation. The guide is called "the Red Book" and it is specificall designed to help prevent the arbitrary closing or consolidation of any post office.
It has a description of the process, tips for what you need to do, and sample petitions to get you started. We think you will find it very helpful if you are trying to figure out how to address this in your own community.
Here is the link to that Guide:
Post Office Preservation Committee
National Association of Postmasters
of the United States
8 Herbert St., Alexandria,VA 22305-2600
703-683-9027; fax, 703-683-0923
Other valuable contacts:
Mrs. Keva Richardson
Acting Chair, NAPUS Post Office Preservation
Committee Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (712-629-5645 home)
In Montana: Janice Erfle
406-671-5499 cell, 406-534-2870
Active state wide organizer, and a retired post master from Rapelje.
Story Update (8/30/11): The U.S. Postal Service has pegged over 3,600 post offices in the U.S. as being candidates for closure as the USPS tries to cut costs. To see the full list by state, CLICK HERE.
Small Communities Fight to Save Post Offices
Several weeks ago, we reported that the United States Postal Service, in an effort to cut costs, is seriously considering closing 3700 post offices all across the United States. Several of these locations can be found in small rural communities like Ingomar, Montana.
On Wednesday, Taylor Brown and John Walton were about to sit down to order lunch at the Jersey Lilly just as it happened that U.S. Senator Max Baucus was about to start a small community meeting in the next room. The topic? How the potential closure of the Ingomar Post Office would impact those living in that community. John and Taylor decided that lunch could wait.
Nearly three dozen people, including many ranchers from miles away, gathered to listen to Senator Baucus, and to share their thoughts with him. It seemed like everybody had something to say.
One person said, "What about people that rely on the post office to receive their medication? It's not like they can drive down to the next post office which is 50 to 60 miles away. Especially in the middle of winter. People are already driving around 20 miles just to get to their local post office and now we're expected to drive another 30 to 40 miles more, one way?"
Another mentioned how isolated they already are when it comes to communication. "We don't even have cell phone service where we live, and I understand that cell phone companies go with population. But I better understand need. And we have a greater need for the post office than areas with higher populations."
Another brought up the possibility of losing zip codes and the implications that would have on emergency responders. "Zip codes dictate which fire department or ambulance service would respond."
After the meeting Taylor spoke with the Senator Baucus.
Click here to listen!
Taylor also spoke with Ingomar Postmistress Coleen Robinson about the need of the Post Office in Ingomar.
Click here to listen!
Senator Baucus is no stranger to fighting for Montana's post offices. In fact you can see a timeline of his fight as well as his stance on the matter by clicking here.
You can also see Senator Baucus' letter to the Postmaster General, Patrick Donahoe by clicking here.
The possible loss of Post Offices in small rural communities is a huge issue for those who live and work in remote parts of the west. The challenge is to help those in more urban communites understand what is at stake. This week in Ingomar, over burgers and beans, local residents were pleased to be able to share their concerns directly with one of America's most powerful Senators!
Posted by John Walton
Content provided by Taylor Brown, John Walton, and Kelsi Gambill
© Northern Ag Network 2011
The Postal Service has not provided any explanations for why post offices are removed from closure study, Hutkins says perhaps that is because it does not want other communities saying they meet similar criteria and should therefore also have their post office removed from the closing list. The Association of United States Postal Lessors (AUSPL) offers some possible reasons for
post offices being removed from the study list. In its latest newsletter, the AUSPL says that four post offices in Colorado – Maybell, Jaroso, Rico and Gateway – were removed because the nearest post offices are up to 60 miles away. In New Jersey, the Carlstadt post office was removed apparently because it's named for two fallen hometown Iraqi veterans. In Alaska, 25 post offices were removed "as a result of Alaska Senator Mark Begich's meeting with PMG Patrick Donahoe." And four rural post offices in Maine – West Forks, Stoneham, Topsfield and Matinicus – were removed "because customers would lose
The overall picture according to Steve Hutkins is something like this: About 430 post offices closed in 2011, and another 270 will close when the moratorium ends, for a total of about 700. About one hundred of those were already closed under emergency suspension when the year began. An additional hundred or so that closed for emergency suspension during 2008 – 2010 are now being studied for final discontinuance, which would bring the