Officials cautiously optimistic about USPS plans

12 years ago

Officials cautiously optimistic about USPS plans

By Kathy McCarty

Staff Writer

    Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and Rep. Mike Michaud have expressed cautious optimism with regard to the U.S. Postal Service’s plans for the future of Maine’s mail delivery.

    Collins, one of the lead sponsors of bipartisan, comprehensive postal reform, received praise for her leadership on the issue from the U.S. Postal Service inspector general. David C. Williams wrote to Collins to express his appreciation for her work to put the Postal Service on a financially viable path.

    Collins’ bill includes a one-year moratorium on closures of small, rural post offices — branches such as Perham and Westfield, among others in Maine — unless there is no significant community opposition to the closure. It encourages the Postal Service to work with the community to explore options such as co-locating a post office within a retail store or sharing space with government agencies. The senator authored a key provision that would result in the continued operation of the Eastern Maine Processing Center in Hampden by mandating certain overnight delivery standards in some areas.

    In Maine, reliable overnight delivery service would be impossible without both the Eastern Maine facility in Hampden and the southern Maine plant in Scarborough. The Hampden plant could not be closed as long as these standards become law.

    Earlier this month, Postmaster General Pat Donahoe announced that none of the 3,200 post offices slated for closure last year — including Perham and Westfield — would be forcibly shuttered. However, about 13,000 post offices will either have work hours reduced, be co-located at a nearby business such as a local pharmacy, merged with another location or service will be provided to residents and businesses in the affected community by either rural carrier or highway contract route.

    “I am cautiously optimistic that the Postmaster General has now devised a plan that will help preserve some essential postal services for rural America, while allowing the Postal Service to reduce its costs as it must do. Reduced hours at certain post offices or their co-location with another facility or a retail store, if properly designed, could well accomplish both goals,” said Collins.

    “To be effective, such a plan must, however, take into account people’s schedules and post offices should be open at times convenient to their customers. The fact is, there are many options to cut costs and expand revenue while preserving service, such as: reducing the size of processing plants without closing them, shifting hours of some post offices, permitting other state or local services to be administered at post offices, or moving tiny post offices into grocery or other stores within the same community,” continued Collins.

    Collins said it’s good news if, indeed, most of the 3,200 smaller post offices currently targeted by the Postal Service will not close, but rather that creative ways to reduce their costs will be explored.

    “Involving communities and providing different options for mail service will both save the Postal Service money and also continue to ensure timely and effective access to postal services for customers. There should be clear minimum standards for service – which we establish in the bill just passed through the Senate — and communities should have a real voice in the decision,” she said.

    Snowe was pleased Donahoe “has reconsidered his ill-advised plan to close thousands of rural post offices, including 34 in Maine, and instead focus on alternative strategies to ensure these critical links to our nation’s communities stay open, either with reduced hours or through co-location with other businesses.”

    “While I will continue to review the details of the plan, it appears to be a step in the right direction. That said, it is vital that the changes to each rural post office match the specific needs of each individual community. Simply put, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work in Maine or anywhere else in the U.S.,” said Snowe.

    She expressed concern over fate of the Hampden distribution center.

    “This revised plan does not explicitly address the Postal Service’s intentions regarding that essential facility for timely postal mail delivery in northern, eastern and western Maine. I hope the Postmaster General will heed my April 4 letter, urging him to delay plans to close and consolidate postal facilities until after Congress completes action on legislation to reform the Postal Service,” said Snowe.

    Michaud said he was encouraged by the decision to seek alternatives to rural closures.

    “The Postal Service must be put on a path to long-term sustainability, but that future cannot be balanced on the backs of the many rural communities that are dependent on quality mail service,” said Michaud. “I will continue to fight to ensure that the USPS honors its commitment to universal service.”