Rural Post Offices Spared


by Lindsey Gardner

BILLINGS – An announcement Wednesday from the Post Master General could save 85 Montana post offices at risk of closing, but representatives for Montana say the new plan isn't much better.

The announcement came early Wednesday morning. Post Master General Patrick Donahoe will no longer shut down a proposed 3,700 post offices nationwide. Instead, the USPS will look at cutting hours to 13,000 facilities across America.

"If you're in a rural area, you have to drive to the post office to get your mail and so what they've said is, 'hey keep it open; we understand you might have to shorten hours because we may only buy stamps once a month, but we need to get our mail every day,'" said Donahoe.

Donahoe said the new proposal will still provide those living in rural America access to postal services while successfully cutting $500 million dollars a year. "Eighty percent of the cost in these facilities, probably more than 80 probably closer to 90, in a lot of these small towns are labor related. So if we can shrink the labor cost, you can keep the building open that's not hard to do, and make sure then that the customers have access."

But Senator Jon Tester said cutting hours is not the answer. "Even though he's not closing any post offices; that is a good thing. This reduction in service can have some pretty negative impacts on rural America."

They're impacts Tester says will affect at least 180 post offices and communities in Montana. The change would keep rural delivery, but force thousands of full-time employees to shift to part-time hours.

"This isn't the solution we need, we need a solution that's looked at by more than one pair of eyes," said Tester. "And we need input from rural America when decisions like this are made."

Instead Tester said the USPS needs to move forward with passing the USPS Overhaul Bill, which is currently at a standstill in the House.

"Time is of the essence," Tester explained. "We've been talking about this for six months to a year, and there's certain things that have to be done here, and the bill that came out of the Senate was really a pretty good bill."

Tester said he's not opposed to reducing hours for some post offices that meet an established criteria, but cutting hours for 180 facilities in Montana alone is just too drastic. The Postal Service will now seek regulatory approval and community input, a process that could take several months.