Postmaster general visits potential closure sites

New report says agency needs ‘dramatic changes’


INGOMAR, Mont. — The top U.S. Postal Service official on Thursday took his case for rural post office closures straight to people it will hurt most.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe told residents in Montana’s capital of Helena and here in one of its smallest towns that up to 3,600 small post offices around the country need to be shuttered as part of cost-cutting moves.

Rural residents who traveled to Helena to meet Donahoe answered right back, saying cuts should be made elsewhere because their post offices provide a much-needed lifeline.

Dede Rhodes, from the town of Basin, said she has no Internet access and relies on the mail. Like many other rural residents, she does not receive mail delivery. She said if her post office closes, the next one is more than 10 miles away, making her regular trip to pick up mail much more costly.

“I need you to really consider what we are saying. People need their rural post offices,” Rhodes told Donahoe. “Let’s look at the urban areas. Maybe they don’t need as many post offices because they get their mail delivered right to their door, or at least to the curb.”

In Montana alone, about 80 small post offices are set for closure, from Alzada to Zurich.

The agency needs to reorganize in part because of a 60% decline in people paying bills through the mail and the cost of paying into its employee retirement benefits, Donahoe said in Helena, which faces losing its mail-processing center.

Last year, postal losses totaled $5.1 billion, and those losses are projected to grow.

“We are in a heck of a financial situation. That is why it is so important we move ahead with some of the changes we need to make,” Donahoe said.

He met later with worried residents on the other side of the state in Ingomar, population just over 100, whose post office is set to close.

Donohoe’s Montana visit is his first to a local community specifical­ly to hear concerns about the impact of the proposed closings.

The trip comes as the Senate prepares as early as next week to take up legislatio­n that would slow, if not stop, the Postal Service’s plans to close roughly half of the nation’s 460 mail-processing centers beginning this year.

The move would slow first-class mail delivery and, for the first time in 40 years, eliminate the chance for stamped letters to arrive the next day.

At the request of Congress, the Postal Service previously agreed not to close any facilities before May 15. Donahoe said the agency has to consider competing requests to preserve certain services, such as six-day delivery, as it weighs cutbacks.

In a report released Thursday, federal auditors stressed that “dramatic changes” were needed to stem the Postal Service’s mounting debt. The report by the Government Accountabi­lity Office said the proposal to close mail processing centers, estimated to save roughly $3 billion a year, was an important part of accomplish­ing that goal.

The GAO report supported elements of a House postal bill that would set up a new commission to make major decisions on postal cuts, including reducing mail delivery to five days a week. The report said if Congress opted to delay or prevent the closing of mail processing centers, lawmakers would have to find other ways to cut postal costs.

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