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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Post Offices on the chopping block

"The Rural Post Office," 1857 by Thomas P. Rossiter
The US Postal Service is under tremendous pressure to cut costs to reduce its budget deficit. They also would rather do their own cutting, rather than have even more Draconian cuts imposed on them by the Congress in its deficit-reduction mania.

Among the measures being undertaken by the US Postal Service is closing Post Offices. For months now, they have been looking over the list of Post Offices they could cut with an emphasis on low-volume, mostly rural offices.

Naturally, there has been concern in South County over the fate of our rural Post Offices. In Charlestown, our Post Office is one of our major social hubs and the thought of it closing is too awful to bear.

But now the Postal Service has released its list of 3,653 post offices slated for shut-down. Thirteen of them are in Rhode Island.

Charlestown isn't one of them. The only South County post office on the list is Rockville's in Hopkinton (02832 zip).

Unlike most of the rest of the US, Rhode Island's closures are more urban neighborhood post offices. The only other really rural post offices targeted for closure are the Clayville (Foster) and Smithfield post offices.

Naturally, Central Falls gets screwed again, as its post office is on the list. Six of the 13 Rhode Island closures will be in Providence, in low-income neighborhoods like Elmwood and Washington Park. Newport loses two post offices and East Providence loses one.

The Postal Service hopes to save $200 million. They are hoping that rural service will be picked up by local retailers - the old General Store model where the local convenience store hangs out a shingle announcing they also service as the "Village Post Office."

This announcement does not make closures a done deal. There will be push-back from politicians with unhappy voters angered by the loss of a local institution and the Post Service workers union will do its best to fight for its members' job security.

When we semi/quasi privatized the Post Office some years ago, we put it on a business model where it was supposed to make a profit while still providing pretty much the exact same level of service they have always provided - cheap rates, universal coverage, etc.

This made no business sense then, and still doesn't make sense today. Indeed, with Fed-Ex, UPS and other for-profit carriers cherry-picking away the most lucrative services, it guaranteed that the Post Service would never be able to compete, never mind produce results as if it was a business and not a vital public service.

I'm surprised the Tea Party people haven't rallied around the Post Office. Government-run mail service has been a public function since before the birth of the Republic. The pioneer of government-run mail service was none other than bona fide Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. Where's Michele Bachmann when we need her?

Author: Will Collette