Postal Service Declares a Moratorium on Closing Post Offices and Processing Plants


December 13, 2011

The Postal Service announced this afternoon that there will be a moratorium on the closings of all post offices and mail processing plants for five months — December 15 to May 15. 

That is welcome news indeed, and it will give the Postal Service and Congress time to work out a whole host of issues, including the $5 billion pre-funding to the retiree health insurance fund, service standards concerning post offices and delivery times, and Saturday delivery. 

This is the third time a moratorium has been declared on post office closings since the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970.  Were it not for this moratorium, post offices might have started closing at a dizzying rate come the first of the year.  Over five hundred have closed this year, and nearly a hundred more have already received Final Determinations indicating they were to close in January.  The 3,650 post offices on the Retail Access Optimization Initiative were bracing to hear their fate any day now, with the closures beginning as early as February. 

The moratorium announcement follows on the heels of a December 8 letter from twenty-two Senate Democrats to Congressional leaders asking them to  “include language in the next appropriations to prevent the USPS from closing or consolidating area mail processing facilities or rural post offices for the next six months. This six-month moratorium will give Congress the time needed to enact reforms necessary for the postal service to succeed in the 21st century.”  

Calls for a moratorium have been building for months.  In August, Iowa’s Governor Terry Branstad called for a moratorium on closing post offices, and in early November, Representative Nick Rahall of West Virginia wrote the Postmaster General urging him to declare a moratorium.

The two postmasters associations — NAPUS and the League of Postmasters — joined the call for a moratorium on November 3.  (An earlier post about the efforts of the League is here, and the NAPUS efforts, here.  The letter from NAPUS President Robert Rapoza to Senator Joseph Lieberman, chair of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, is here.)

The postmasters associations have been pushing for “service standards” that would deal with the closing of small post offices — rules that would incorporate geographic and demographic considerations in closing decisions — and they succeeded in getting Lieberman’s committee to include an amendment to the postal bill about these standards.  The postmasters asked for a six-month moratorium on closings while the standards could be worked out.  

Then in mid-November, the Postal Service declared what it called a “suspension” on post office closings, to run from November 18 until January 3.  But that wasn’t a real moratorium, it was just for a few weeks, and its purpose was to avoid mailing problems during the peak mail volumes of the holiday season.  (And it didn’t stop a few post offices from closing, due to an emergency suspension or simply in spite of the hold on closings).

Today's announcement means there will be a real moratorium on post office closings and mail processing plant consolidations.  Come January, then, the Postal Service won't be announcing the closure of thousands of post offices on the RAOI list.  The Postal Regulatory Commission can now take some more time, if it so chooses, to work on the Advisory Opinion about the RAOI, which was due out any day now.  And it will take some of the pressure off the PRC to move quickly on the new Advisory Opinion on service standards and plant consolidations.

This moratorium will be the third moratorium on post office closings since the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970.  The first occurred in 1976, following a 1975 GAO report recommending the closure and consolidation of 12,000 rural post offices.  The report led to a storm of reaction, Congressional hearings, and the passage of the Postal Reorganization Act Amendments.  The Act established a commission to study the postal service and imposed a moratorium on closing or consolidating any post office until the commission published its findings.  That moratorium was in effect from September 1976 until March 1977.

In 1998, under congressional pressure, the Postmaster General declared a moratorium on closures and consolidations, and it was in place until 2003.  As a report by the Office of Inspector General explains, the reason for this self-imposed moratorium was "suspicion in Congress that the Postal Service was manipulating the emergency suspension procedure," which was the subject of a 1999 congressional hearing. 

"Save the Post Office" has been calling for a moratorium on closings since June 2011.  It seemed like a pipe dream back then.  Today it's a reality.  

A special thanks to the over 3,000 people who signed the petition calling for a mortorium on closing post offices.  You helped make it happen.

MORE ON THE STORY

Here's the AP report:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Postal Service on Tuesday agreed to delay the closing of 252 mail processing centers and 3,700 local post offices until mid-May.

In a statement, the cash-strapped agency said it would hold off on closings by several weeks to give Congress more time to pass legislation that would give it more authority and liquidity to stave off bankruptcy. The Postal Service, which is expected to default Friday on a $5.5 billion payment to the Treasury, is forecast to lose a record $14.1 billion next year.

Last week, the Postal Service said it was moving forward on cutbacks. It had planned to begin closing processing centers as early as April, and shutter some post offices early next year.

"There continues to be extreme urgency, and our financial crisis continues," said postal spokesman David Partenheimer. "But we're hoping by working with senators and all members of Congress that they can pass comprehensive legislation that allows the Postal Service to return to profitability."

The agreement by the Postal Service also means that cuts to first-class mail that would slow delivery and, for the first time in 40 years, eliminate the chance for stamped letters to arrive the next day, would not occur before May 15. Previously, the post office said it had hoped to implement the cuts to first-class service in April.

Last Thursday, a group of 21 senators from mostly rural states led by Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, signed a letter to congressional leaders asking them to add language to legislation that would halt closings for six months. The closures could cost 100,000 postal employees their jobs.

"What I feared very much is that the post office unilaterally would start making drastic cuts to processing plants, rural post offices and slow first-class mail service before Congress can pass postal reform," Sanders said. "So it's a step forward in terms of giving us time with certainty that rural post offices won't be closed."

In all, roughly 100,000 postal employees could be cut as a result of the various closures, resulting in savings of up to $6.5 billion a year.

The Postal Service, an independent agency of government, does not receive tax money, but it is subject to congressional control on major aspects of its operations.

Separate bills that have passed House and Senate committees would give the Postal Service more authority to reduce delivery to five days a week, raise stamp prices and reduce health care and other labor costs.

The Senate bill would refund nearly $7 billion the Postal Service overpaid into a federal retirement fund, encourage a restructuring of health benefits and reduce the agency's annual payments into a future retiree health account. No other agency or business is required to make such health prepayments.

Here's the Postal Service announcement:

The U.S. Postal Service, in response to a request made by multiple U.S. Senators, has agreed to delay the closing or consolidation of any Post Office or mail processing facility until May 15, 2012. The Postal Service will continue all necessary steps required for the review of these facilities during the interim period, including public input meetings.

The Postal Service hopes this period will help facilitate the enactment of comprehensive postal legislation. Given the Postal Service’s financial situation and the loss of mail volume, the Postal Service must continue to take all steps necessary to reduce costs and increase revenue.

The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.

Here's the statement on the NAPUS website:

Postal Service Announces a 5 Month Moratorium on Post Office Closings

Moratorium Agreement Reached Between USPS and Senate Members

Today, at 3:00 PM Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mark Begich (D-AK), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced an agreement with the U.S Postal Service to impose a 5-month moratorium on the closing of postal facilities, including post offices. This suspension of closings and consolidations will extend through May 15, 2012. You may view the Senate press release announcing the moratorium by clicking on Senate Press Release. The USPS also issued a press release, which you may view by clicking on USPS Press Release.

The announcement comes in the wake of a letter authored by 22 Members of the Senate calling for the closing moratorium, pending the enactment of postal relief legislation. Yesterday, the Postmaster General and the Chairman of the Postal Board of Governors were summoned to Capitol Hill by Senator Durbin to meet with the signers of the letter, in part, regarding the impact of postal closings on service.

NAPUS applauds the efforts of the Senators.

Charlie Moser
Decem

Here's the press release from the Senators responsible for making the moratorium happen:

United States Senate

For Immediate Release

Christina Mulka (Durbin) 202.228.5643
Michael Briggs(Sanders) 202.228.6492
Andrea Helling (Tester) 202.228.0371
Julie Hasquet (Begich) 907.258.9304
Trevor Kincaid (McCaskill) 202.228.6263
Meghan Dubyak (Brown) 202.224.3978
Jennifer Hoelzer (Wyden) 202.224.3789
Jake Thompson (Nelson) 202.224.8795
Tara Trujillo (Udall-CO) 202.224.4334
Daniel Watson (Udall-NM) 202.228.6870
Bethany Lesser (Gillibrand) 202.224.3873
Perry Plumart (Johnson) 202.224.5842
Linden Zakula (Klobuchar) 202.228.6317
Alexandra Fetissoff (Franken) 202.224.4645
Abigail McDonough (Rockefeller) 202.224.1601

December 13, 2011

SENATORS ANNOUNCE U.S. POSTAL SERVICE AGREEMENT TO DELAY POSTAL FACILITY CLOSURES FOR FIVE-MONTHS

Moratorium would protect good-paying jobs while Congress works to enact comprehensive postal reform legislation

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Fifteen Senators from around the country today announced that, at their request, the U.S. Postal Service has voluntarily agreed to put in place a five-month moratorium on closing postal facilities, which would give Congress more time to enact postal reform legislation.  During the moratorium, scheduled to end on May 15, 2012, the Postal Service will continue to study the impact of proposed closures on service and costs and to solicit community input. 

Today’s announcement follows a meeting yesterday between several Senators and the U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Thurgood Marshall, Jr., in which Senators expressed concern over the impact of reduced service and the loss of thousands of jobs.

On September 15, 2011, the U.S. Postal Service announced plans to review its mail processing network in the hopes of reducing costs.  The Postal Service is currently considering the elimination of overnight delivery and studying the possibility of closing 3,700 mostly rural post offices and 252 mail processing facilities.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL): “Over the last few months, I have heard concerns from local officials, residents and postal service employees about the original proposal from the Postal Service.  Illinois would pay a heavy price under that proposal which impacts dozens of rural post offices in our state and nine mail processing centers that employ roughly 1,800 Illinoisans.  There is no doubt that the Postal Service as we know it today has to adapt, but I think a better solution exists.  The Postal Service has given Congress five months to act.  It’s now up to us to move forward with comprehensive legislation that does not jeopardize the best postal service in the world.”

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT): “I am pleased that the Postal Service has announced that it will impose a moratorium on closing or consolidating post offices and mail processing facilities.  This moratorium will give Congress the breathing room it needs to enact comprehensive postal reform to protect universal service while ensuring the postal service will succeed in the 21st century.”

U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT): “Today’s announcement is a win for Montana, and credit belongs to the thousands of Montanans who raised their concerns about the importance of postal service in rural America. But we have more work to do.  I look forward to working on a long-term solution that keeps the Postal Service open for business and serving rural America.”

U.S. Senator Mark Begich (D-AK): “I’ve spent months sending a strong message to the Postmaster General that Alaska post offices are the center of our rural communities and a necessary source of groceries, medicine and equipment. Closing post offices can permanently damage Alaska communities and I’m glad the Postmaster General has recognized that Congress needs to be given an opportunity to do our job before closing the doors on our post offices. In the past year I’ve made several proposals for reforming the post office, including setting clear retail standards for USPS services in every community, and look forward to working with my colleagues on legislation before the end of this moratorium.  I am committed to protecting universal service to Alaska communities and ensuring the success of the USPS in the 21st century.”

U.S. Senator Clair McCaskill (D-MO): “Folks in communities across Missouri rely on the Postal Service for everything from life-saving prescriptions to veterans’ benefits.  I'm glad that we have convinced the Postal Service to put the brakes on closing any post offices for six months so that we have time to enact reforms for the long-term health of the postal service and protect communities.  I’ll remain devoted to ensuring the Postal Service acts with full transparency and fairness as they make decisions that impact services in Missouri.”

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH): “This moratorium is a win for Ohio consumers, Ohio business, and Ohio workers. Though the Postal Service faces serious challenges, this will provide time to reach a solution that will strengthen the USPS, instead of crippling it. It is vital that all Ohio residents and businesses receive the same level of service and access to their mail.” 

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR): “Post offices and the services they provide are vital to the economic health of rural communities.  They add tremendous value to Oregon's commerce and are often a center of civic life in rural parts of the state. As a vote-by-mail state, a fully operating Postal Service is at the core of Oregon’s democratic process. This decision from the Postal Service is a welcome victory for folks living in rural as well as urban areas while Congress looks to tackle postal reform in the coming year.”

U.S. Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE): “Closing post offices before we try to fix the system is putting the cart before the horse, so today’s announcement is good news. With 90 rural post offices targeted for closure in Nebraska, we have to remember that the USPS was created to provide a public service. Our local post offices play a special role in our communities, keeping us connected to our friends and families, and keeping businesses connected to their customers. They are an important part of our economy and our social fabric, serving every city, suburb and small town in Nebraska.”

U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO): "I'm glad the Postal Service is giving Congress some time to reach a viable long-term solution to deal with the USPS’s budget shortfall in a way that softens the impact on rural communities in Colorado and across the country.  Post offices anchor the daily activities and local economies in so many of America’s small towns.  Now that we have a five-month reprieve, we owe it to our constituents to find creative ways to maintain quality access to post office services for our small towns and small businesses."

U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM): “Throughout this year, I've stressed to the Postmaster General the real impact that post office closures will have on New Mexico communities. We need comprehensive reform that ensures the long-term stability of the Postal Service, while providing essential, quality service to every corner of New Mexico.  I commend the Postmaster General for putting a moratorium on any further closures for the next few months to give Congress the opportunity to find a long-term solution.  We owe it to rural communities especially, that depend on the postal system for commerce, jobs and to stay connected, to find a sustainable solution that doesn't compromise service.”

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY): “The U.S. Postal Service plays a vital role in every community. Small businesses, families, and seniors depend on these facilities daily. While this is not a permanent solution, I am pleased that the Postmaster General is putting a six-month moratorium on the closures of postal facilities.  In New York , more than 1000 jobs, 100 post offices and 7 Area Mail Processing centers will continue serving their communities while Congress works on reforming the postal service to ensure its survival.”

U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD): “I welcome the Postal Service’s decision to put in place a five-month moratorium. Congress now needs to work on reforms that can restore fiscal solvency to USPS. I will continue to fight to ensure the Postal Service provides quality service to rural America because it is incredibly important to South Dakota’s way of life and our state’s economy.”

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN): “As the U.S. Postal Service takes steps to turn its financial situation around, it is important that it take into consideration the needs of rural communities.  I believe we need to enact reforms to help the Postal Service adjust to a digital world and recognize the concerns of rural communities.”

U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN): “This moratorium will protect jobs and post offices all over Minnesota by giving Congress time to get the U.S. Postal Service’s financial house in order and make needed, reasonable reforms. The Postal Service provides a vital service to people all over the country, and it's important that we make sure that Minnesotans – particularly in rural areas – can continue to depend on their local post offices.”

U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV): “The proposed post office closings and mail processing consolidations could seriously harm communities throughout West Virginia – slashing critical jobs in our local communities, and slowing or even halting mail service in dozens of communities.  I’m glad that the USPS is now delaying these actions.  There is no question that USPS is facing serious financial problems, but rather than slashing jobs and services in rural areas, I believe that Congress can and should take steps to resolve some of these issues, and hopefully save some of the jobs that might otherwise get cut.  Particularly as so many families are just trying to make ends meet, we owe it to our postal workers to try to keep as many of them in their jobs as possible.”

And here's the best for last — the statement from Issa & Ross:

Postmaster General Cave-in on Postal Reform Paves Way for Taxpayer-Funded Bailout

WASHINGTON- Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Oversight Postal Subcommittee Chairman Dennis Ross, R-Fla., issued the following statement on today’s announcement that USPS would be delaying necessary cost-cutting reforms:

Statement of Chairman Issa and Subcommittee Chairman Ross

“Once again, the Postmaster General has caved to political pressure. Postal losses now total over one billion dollars per month. This delay hastens the crisis that is bringing USPS to the brink of collapse and raises serious questions as to whether current postal leadership is up to the job. Despite its denials, it is very clear that the Postal Service wants a bailout that will cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars. To avert this outcome, we must pass comprehensive legislation that precludes political interference by self-serving postal unions, special interest groups, and members of Congress.”

The House Oversight Committee has approved H.R. 2309, the Issa-Ross Postal Reform Act of 2011, the only comprehensive postal reform legislation that will return the Postal Service to solvency, free it from political interference, and prevent a taxpayer funded bailout of USPS.

Now that's what you call a win-win: A moratorium on closing post offices and processing plants, and Issa-Ross pissed off.

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