The news came last Friday from Sen. Claire McCaskill’s office. The U.S. Postal Service announced that it had indefinitely postponed the closing of 68 mail processing centers.
It is a victory in the ongoing battle to keep rural postal services intact, with the hope of restoring better service. There haven’t been too many victories for the National Newspaper Association (NNA), chief lobbiest for newspapers and rural post offices. The NNA’s membership is composed of many small weekly and daily newspapers across the country that depend on the postal service to reach their subscribers.
A group of U.S. senators, including Sen. McCaskill, following a Roundtable on Rural Mail before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, asked for a one-year moratorium on postal closings until the impact of the closing is fully understood. Sens. Jon Tester, D-MT, and Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, along with Sen. McCaskill, were among the leaders in the battle to keep the postal processing centers open. Missouri’s other U.S. senator, Roy Blunt, also has been out front in this fight to ensure better rural mail delivery.
NNA President John Edgecombe, Jr., publisher of a newspaper in Nebraska, said due to the consolidation and closing of postal processing plants across the country, service to rural America “has dramatically worsened.” This has resulted in cancellations of subscriptions and failed delivery of mail to the newspapers. “Our communities are complaining and our editors are hearing it. It is time for Congress to demand a change,” Edgecombe said.
We are well aware that the closing of postal facilities and curtailments in hours that post offices are open have hurt delivery of mail, including newspapers, on a timely basis. We haven’t placed the blame on postal workers, as many people do. It’s the system that is failing with fewer workers and fewer facilities that are mandated from above.
The one-year moratorium on the closings will give time to study the impact and the consequences. No study has been made at this point. One of the mail processing centers that was on the list to be closed is at Springfield.
“These closing swould undoubtedly have hurt rural communities and the U.S. Postal Service cannot keep solving their problems on the back of these smaller and rural towns.” McCaskill added that the moratorium is a short-term victory, “we still need to get down to the hard work of addressing the Postal Service’s very real operational challenges, in a way that doesn’t kill postal service service in rural areas.”
To some people, this may not seem as much of a victory. But it is to the forces that have been working for years to address the problems of the agency, which has been facing tough competition, loss of revenue and operational problems. Some time back, the agency decided it was going to concentrate on improving first class mail revenue and give the most attention to urban areas. That policy harmed people in rural areas.
The NNA seeks measurement of mail service times from rural to rural areas, rural to urban areas and urban to rural areas. USPS currently measures on-time delivery of mail nationally and reports to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC). “But because urban areas receive the most mail, reported averages are heavily weighted toward urban service. Isolating rural service has not yet become a priority of the commission,” the NNA stated.
Max Heath of the NNA Postal Committee said it was time for the PRC “to spotlight the rural service problems.” He added that no one can zero in on the problems of rural service until there are service measurements.
One battle has been won. The war continues.