EDITORIAL: Post office pain needs solutions

2011-09-25T06:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Post office pain needs solutionsJournal editorial board Rapid City Journal
September 25, 2011 6:00 am  • 

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.

Copyright 2015 Rapid City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(4) Comments

  1. Lucius Vorenus
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    Lucius Vorenus - September 26, 2011 5:14 pm
    Whether there is enough work or not to keep workers busy, the USPS guarantees work hours for some employees, including clerks represented by the American Postal Workers Union and carriers represented by the National Association of Letter Carriers.

    It was reported, that in the first six months of this year, employees logged 170,666 stand-by hours at a cost of $4.3 million.

    The RCJ had a piece which stated that there are 40 Sioux City USPS union employees on standby status, which may cost the USPS $1.72 million plus benefits for doing little or no work.

    Yet, the public hears don’t blame the unions.
  2. Michelle
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    Michelle - September 26, 2011 2:26 pm
    Along time ago before the internet the Post Office increased its size and complexity to deal with an ever growing number of users. In the good old days of the 1950s stamps for letters were 3 cents and 1 or 2 cents for a post card. As the population increased junk mail increased and so did postal shipping. Now the Post Office has less letters than before because of email, cell phones texting, and all kinds other ways for people to communicate besides writing letters. However is there not an increase in freight shipping because of all of the businesses using the internet to sell things. The Post Office can get more competitive here. The Post Office has to keep adapting its business to meet current needs and not cut its services to small rural communities. Yes some Post Offices can be consolidated for towns five to ten miles from each other but rural areas need postal service too. Travel is a problem in the winter for many rural communities in snow country. Service should not be cut there.

    The Post Office needs to reorganize its business in these rural areas. Will its Post Offices be run out of existing local post offices or share a space with another existing business. How will it reorganize its rural deliveries. Will it continue them or just deliver a couple of days a week to farm houses or just when there is a package to deliver. Farmers do come to town to get parts for their farm machinery and to grocery shop. Post Offices could be put in grocery stores or gas stations. The post office needs to survey and find out what the rural population is in its different postal service areas and find out what the local needs are and how to best meet them. The post office needs to decide what its going to charge for junk mail sent into isolated rural areas from distant places and charge more while delivering local advertising at a lower rate.

    What part does junk mail play in keeping the post office in business. Can the post office using inexpensive technology develop a way for people with out computers to wire letters to isolated rural areas where physical trucking in mail has become too expensive because of decreased population and low usage of the postal services.

    Whatever you do don't blame the Unions. Postal workers deserve a descent wage. Many of them work in all kinds of weather under difficult situations which put a huge physical strain on their bodies and many of them develop work related physical stress injuries. They are public servants who especially in isolated rural areas have made many sacrifices in life to work for the Postal Service. It seems that people are jealous today of anybody who has been able to find away to retire and live some how on a small pension without working. But they are unwilling to hire older people, pay them a living wage, and create a work place that is not hostile to the infirmities of old age. When older people are retired from their job, many people especially Republicans, want us to just die and decompose quickly without leaving a mess.

    America has become too much about what are you doing now, and forgetting what services people have gone through in the past. The past does not matter, if you haven't worked and destroyed your health in the past, do it now. Then die and become fertilizer in the gardens of the rich.
  3. Lucius Vorenus
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    Lucius Vorenus - September 26, 2011 11:05 am
    This op ed blames postal customers have abandoned their post offices in droves by using Internet-based bill paying services and email...

    This month, Lee Enterprises, the parent company of the Rapid City Journal, had to refinance its debt loans.

    To its credit, Lee Enterprises is attempting to keep current in the digital world and to fulfill its obligations in a bad economy…

    In a news release, Lee Enterprises wrote: We continue to drive rapid digital growth, with year-over-year digital advertising revenue up 22 percent in the June quarter. Unique visitors to our digital sites increased 29 percent to 21.6 million in the month of June versus a year ago, while mobile page views jumped 220 percent. This summer, we have deployed latest-generation iPhone applications in all 53 of our markets and upgraded our smartphone apps for local sports. We also are in the process of rolling out iPad apps in 10 of our larger markets, with others to follow.

    In 2010, the nonpartisan GOA wrote: The USPS’s business model is not viable due to USPS’s inability to reduce costs sufficiently in response to continuing mail volume and revenue declines

    The USPS also is nearing its $15 billion borrowing limit with the U.S. Treasury and has unfunded pension and retiree health obligations and other liabilities of about $90 billion. In 2009, Congress reduced USPS's retiree health benefit payment by $4 billion to address a looming cash shortfall, but USPS still recorded a loss of $3.8 billion. (The average cost of the prepayment is $5.5b).

    Given its financial problems and outlook, USPS cannot support its current level of service and operations. USPS projects that volume will decline by about 27 billion pieces over the next decade, while revenues will stagnate; costs will rise; and, without major changes, cumulative losses could exceed $238 billion.

    Action by Congress and USPS is urgently needed to (1) reach agreement on actions to achieve USPS’s financial viability, (2) provide financial relief through deferral of costs by revising USPS retiree health benefit funding while continuing to fund these benefits over time to the extent that USPS’s finances permit, and (3) require that any binding arbitration resulting from collective bargaining would take USPS’s financial condition into account. Congress may also want assurance that any financial relief it provides is met with aggressive actions by USPS to reduce its costs and increase revenues, and that USPS is making progress toward addressing its financial problems. USPS’s new business plan recognizes immediate actions are needed, but USPS has made limited progress on some options, such as closing facilities. If no action is taken, risks of larger USPS losses, rate increases, and taxpayer subsidies will increase.

    Changes in the USPS need to be made…The $90b in unfunded liabilities cannot be absorbed by the taxpayers.
  4. nwsdcitizen
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    nwsdcitizen - September 25, 2011 9:36 pm
    This article on the possible closures of many SD post offices is dead on. I agree with all the main points. The mandate to prepay 5.5 billion and the over-payment into the retirement fund alone would go a long way to solving the financial crunch the USPS is having. I also whole-heartedley agree with ending Saturday general delivery. That is s service when weighed against it's cost is too expensive and ending it would effect everyone equally. However, the unions are fighting that cut, surprise, surprise. The only item I would add to the articles list is the need to cut more from the top heavy administration end of the USPS.

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