US lawmakers cautiously welcome USPS post office plans

US lawmakers have given a cautious welcome to US Postal Service plans to preserve rural post offices but with reduced hours. In the Senate, which passed its postal reform bill last month, but now needs the House bill to pass if it is to see any proposals actually become law, was generally positive about the USPS rural post office plans.

However, lawmakers noted that the plan was only a small part of what USPS needs to do to reduce the $22bn hole in its annual budget.

Senator Susan Collins, one of the Senate leaders on postal reform, said she was “cautiously optimistic” that reduced hours at certain rural post offices or co-location with local retail stores could preserve postal services in rural areas while allowing USPS to cut its costs.

The Republican from the largely rural state of Maine said there needed to be “clear minimum standards” for retail service, as set out in the Senate bill.

“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,” said Sen. Collins. “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.”

Senator Tom Carper, another postal reform proponent, said he was pleased the plan would preserve essential postal services and give local communities a voice in the changes, while USPS cuts its costs.

But he said the plan was merely a “stopgap” measure that only addressed a “small part of the problem, with the pressure now on the House of Representatives to pass postal reforms to resolve the major financial issues at USPS.

“The Postal Service needs a comprehensive solution, not more tinkering around the edges. The Senate passed a comprehensive bill that would modernize the Postal Service, allowing it to right-size and become competitive in the 21st century. Now, it’s up to the House to pass a bill. We can’t wait any longer,” said the Democrat from Delaware.

Vermont’s Senator Bob Sanders, one of the most vocal opponents of closing mail facilities in rural areas, said it was “good news” that rural post offices would be saved, but held reservations about cutting operation hours.

“I will continue to fight to keep as many of these post offices open for as long as possible,” he said, suggesting that reducing operating hours “will not save significant amounts” compared to the overall USPS budget.

House

“The Postal Service needs to focus on consolidation in more populated areas”

This concern was also highlighted over in the House of Representatives by House Oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa.

The Republican from California, who has led postal reform legislation in the lower chamber of Congress, issued a fairly dismissive statement suggesting that the Postal Service needs to do more to cut its operating costs than merely adjust operations in its smallest post offices.

He said: “To achieve real savings creating long-term solvency, the Postal Service needs to focus on consolidation in more populated areas where the greatest opportunities for cost reduction exist.”

Issa said his postal reform legislation would achieve “substantial” cost savings, shifting retail access in densely populated areas to “less expensive alternatives that offer superior hours”.

The Oversight chairman did not comment on when the House might get round to considering his postal reform bill, which was passed out of committee back in January.

If it gets round to a floor debate for postal reform legislation, the Republican-controlled House looks like to pass a bill that targets much more cuts in the USPS processing network than its Senate equivalent, while seeking to avoid the kind of pension and healthcare system reforms that Republicans like Issa consider a “taxpayer bailout”.

The Senate bill passed at the end of April, which had some Republican support, favoured handing USPS back its $11bn pension surplus and restructuring healthcare pre-funding arrangements, while restricting post office closures and adding extra reviews of processing plant closures.

Republicans leading postal reform in the House were highly critical of the bill that passed the Senate, with postal subcommittee chairman Dennis Ross saying it fell “disastrously short” of restoring solvency at the Postal Service.

Postmasters

Meanwhile, the National League of Postmasters said yesterday this was going to be a “very tough time” for postmasters as the USPS implements its plans to reduce hours at around 9,000 post offices.

As many as 21,000 postmasters are set to be offered early retirement incentives, with 13,000 said to be already of eligible age to retire. USPS estimates suggest around 9,000 postmasters will be required to take fewer hours under its plans.

Incentives are set to be up to $20,000 payable over two years, although part-time postmasters in smaller post offices will be offered smaller amounts, pro-rated from their current salary levels.

“The League is continuing to work with Postal Headquarters to minimise the impact, answer the questions that arise from the process,” said the League’s president, Mark Strong, insisting his association had done “everything possible” to keep post offices open in rural communities.

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