Lummis: Close Urban, not Rural Post Offices
by Representative Cynthia Lummis - Op Ed
October 24, 2011
Those of us who live in rural areas understand the importance of accessibility to postal services, particularly for those located in isolated areas. Many people living in Wyoming contend with great distances between communities, difficult terrain, and extreme weather conditions in order to pick up mail, packages and prescription medicines.
Post Offices serving rural communities in Wyoming and across the country have long been a crucial part of these communities’ daily routines and identities. Despite the important role postal offices play in rural life, this past July, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) released a list of 3,700 post offices nationwide being studied for closure due to the enormous financial challenges that the agency is facing. Forty-four of the post offices listed for possible closure are in Wyoming.
The fact that the USPS is in trouble is old news; Americans have been hearing about the Postal Service’s dire fiscal situation for years. The dawn of digital communication has fundamentally altered how our society stays in touch and does business, ultimately impacting the Postal Service’s business structure.
Although the USPS is a federal agency, by law, it is self-funded and relies primarily on revenue from postage. With declining demand for mail delivery services, decreasing revenue, and significant labor costs, the USPS has ultimately found itself in the midst of a serious financial crisis. By its own admission, between 2007 and 2010, the USPS lost over $20 billion. It is projected to lose another $9 billion for fiscal year 2011; the agency summarized its situation as the equivalent of facing Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
I understand the need to review USPS facilities in terms of improving efficiency and reducing costs. However, consideration must be given to the unique needs of rural America and the critical role that postal services play in these communities; and whether or not rural closures will actually aid in getting the Service on more sound fiscal footing. Rural America’s voice must be heard in Congress, where the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is leading the charge to reform the Postal Service. I recently wrote a letter to the Chairman of the committee, Congressman Darrell Issa, expressing the extensive challenges rural communities will face should the rural post offices under review close.
Shuttering the post offices in these rural Wyoming communities would create true hardships for those who live there, forcing residents to drive between 30 and 90 miles round-trip to visit the closest available post office. Consider the Horse Creek post office, which is currently being studied for closure. Horse Creek is approximately 32 miles from Cheyenne. Twenty-five of those miles must be traveled on a winding, narrow two-lane road in an area that is subject to extremely high winds, and, in the winter, significant snow fall and freezing temperatures. A sixty-four mile round-trip to access postal services in these conditions is simply not feasible. There are many more Wyoming communities that face similar challenges.
Furthermore, it is crucial to note that the 3,700 post offices currently under review are estimated to achieve only $200 million in cost savings. This is just a fraction of the USPS’ debt. Greater savings would be achieved from reducing delivery days to five or less per week, and closing post offices in urban locations, where many post offices exist within close proximity. Urban residents enjoy greater access to public transportation and a multitude of options when it comes to postal services. Closing metropolitan post office locations would likely not be as detrimental to these residents as the closure of post offices in rural communities.
Our Postal Service needs meaningful solutions that are as modern as the times we live in. As the Postal Service reviews ways to pull itself out of the red, and Congress eyes legislative reforms, all involved must take into account the effects these proposals will have on rural America. Patchwork proposals that disproportionally affect rural communities, yet do nothing to get to the heart of the problem must be discarded. As the debate continues about how to return the USPS to an economically sustainable path, I will continue to fight to ensure the voice of rural Wyoming is heard.