he story is becoming depressingly familiar - another small, rural community in western South Dakota is threatened with the loss of its post office and meets with U.S. Postal Service representatives to learn why.
In places like Pringle and Vale and Caputa, as well as tribal communities like Wounded Knee and Wakpala and Bullhead, the institution that is often synonymous with a sense of community - the town post office - is facing closure in the wake of huge budget deficits for the U.S. Postal Service.
Those places are just a few of the 26 western South Dakota towns that are on a list of about 3,700 post offices nationwide that the postal service is considering for closure. The entire South Dakota list tops 80.
The shuttering of 26 area post offices will hit particularly hard in those geographically isolated towns, where residents already have few other shipping and mailing options. We'd like to see the postal service take that fact into consideration in the face of these hard financial decisions, because the U.S. Postal Service isn't just a business. It is also a uniquely democratic concept that has unified our vast and diverse nation for more than 235 years. For the price of one first-class stamp, any person in America can connect with another, whether they live across the street or across the country.
We hate to think that the residents of Reva or Norris don't deserve access to that same American privilege as much as the folks who live in Rapid City do, and we hope the postal service can find ways to provide it to them. Surely, there are innovative solutions that fall somewhere between full services in every tiny town in America and complete closure in places like Reva or Manderson, which are many miles from another post office. We expect the postal service to find them.
Congress could improve the chances of that happening if it would act quickly to address two financial issues that are hamstringing the postal service, due to the mandated pre-funding of its retiree benefits.
The Postal Service needs Congress to enact legislation by this September that would eliminate the current mandate requiring retiree health benefit pre-payments, which costs the Postal Service $5.5 billion annually. Legislation also is needed to return a $6.9 billion overpayment into the Federal Employees Retirement System to the Postal Service.
The postal service isn't seeking a taxpayer bailout, loan or subsidy. The USPS gets no tax dollars for its operating expenses, all of which are funded through the sale of postage, products and services. What it is asking for is access to its own money that was overpaid into its retirement fund. If it were not for that unique health benefit pre-funding requirement, the Postal Service would have recorded a cumulative profit of $1 billion from 2007 to 2010.
Other changes, such as eliminating Saturday home mail delivery, are also needed. That one change could save $3 billion annually. That seems a fair exchange for postal customers in today's digital world who have abandoned their post offices in droves by using Internet-based bill paying services and email, instead of buying a 44-cent stamp to make that payment or mail that birthday card.
Making those changes to the way the U.S. Postal Service does business may not save the 26 West River post offices currently on the closure list. But it could help keep others off of future lists by helping put the USPS back on the road to profitability.
We urge Congress to do what is necessary in time for the postal service to meet its Sept. 30 fiscal year deadline and avoid defaulting on its payments.