Congress to make key vote on post office closures TuesdayWith the U.S. Postal Service scheduled to run out of money in October, Senate leaders agreed on Thursday to take up the 21st Century Postal Service Act and a series of more than 30 proposed amendments.
By: Denise Ross, The Daily Republic
The future of rural post offices slated for closure hinges in part on U.S. Senate action scheduled for Tuesday.
With the U.S. Postal Service scheduled to run out of money in October, Senate leaders agreed on Thursday to take up the 21st Century Postal Service Act and a series of more than 30 proposed amendments, a mix of often ideologically driven efforts from both Democrats and Republicans.
For example, several Republican proposals aim to curtail the rights of unionized employees, including one that would ban collective bargaining altogether. Some Democratic amendments aim to keep small rural post offices open and put criteria in place aimed at preventing future closures in many cases.
South Dakota’s senators both back measures to keep rural post offices open.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., has met with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn, who crafted the legislation. He backs components that would allow the Postal Service to recoup $11 billion in retirement benefits already paid for future retirees and direct that money toward incentives for about 100,000 employees to retire in the near future.
Some interested parties blame much of the Postal Service’s financial problems on a law that has required the USPS to pay for several decades worth of future retirement benefits over the course of a few years. Some others dispute such claims. Thune’s office described the $11 billion in question as an “overpayment” of retirement benefits.
In addition, the proposal Thune supports would impose a two-year delay on any plan to eliminate Saturday mail deliveries and make the end of Saturday delivery a last resort to achieving long-term solvency. The plan would also allow post offices to offer products such as fishing licenses.
“I am hopeful that the Senate can soon come to an agreement on amendments and that we can move toward reforming the USPS in a way that doesn’t penalize rural patrons, but puts the USPS on a fiscally responsible track,” Thune said.
Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., signed a letter to key Senate leaders in February outlining a series of priorities regarding Postal Service reform.
“Everyone understands that the Postal Service is in the midst of a serious financial crisis that must be addressed,” reads the letter, signed by 27 senators. “But, we believe that this financial crisis can be solved in a way that does not substantially slow down the delivery of mail and harm rural America.”
In addition to seeking protection for rural post offices, the letter asked that one- to three-day delivery be maintained for first-class mail, that mail continue to be delivered six days per week and that a “blue ribbon entrepreneurial commission” craft a new business model for the USPS.
South Dakota’s lone member of the U.S. House, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., agrees with Johnson and Thune that rural post offices should largely remain open.
“Many South Dakotans rely on the Postal Service to receive benefits, medication and other deliveries. There is no question the Postal Service must adjust to the reality that more people are using electronic communication, but I continue to believe they should cut costs internally before closing rural post offices,” Noem said. “Congress can also help by providing the Postal Service more flexibility so they can adjust to the realities of an increasingly digital world.”
Noem is a cosponsor of a bill that would suspend bonuses for the postmaster general and other USPS officials in any year in which a postal facility is closed. Supporters of that bill note that the postmaster general’s pay — $384,299 last year with bonuses — exceeds that of both Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.