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SPOTLIGHT
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Postal reprieve

Published on -5/10/2012, 9:45 AM

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Residents throughout rural America who were concerned about the potential closing of their local post office were given reprieve Wednesday. At least for two years, the U.S. Postal Service will not shutter any of the 3,700 facilities it has targeted.

Many of the facilities are located in Kansas, where citizens and elected officials alike were not reluctant to voice their opinion.

"We've listened to our customers in rural America, and we've heard them loud and clear -- they want to keep their post office open," said Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe.

The entity instead will shorten the hours of operation, down to two hours in many cases. More than 13,000 post offices likely will enact this cost-saving measure, but only after a review process that will take several months.

We congratulate the U.S. Postal Service for listening to its customers -- and its own employees. Now, the critical utility can turn its attention to alternative ways of reducing expenses.

We would be in favor of at least two such methods. The first is one often expressed by local postmasters and other postal employees. The federal law compelling the Postal Service to fund future retiree health benefits needs serious revision. By far, this single line item has brought the organization to the brink of bankruptcy.

This year alone, the Postal Service is required to pay $11 billion to the U.S. Treasury for such benefits. No other public or private entity does this. It makes no sense to us the Postal Service should either. Particularly when it is already $13 billion in debt, with a $15 billion debt limit. Something has to give, and only Congress has the authority to make the change.

The second might be a little more controversial, but we believe effective nonetheless. When examining which post offices to close, the organization opted to target low-revenue sites. As such, many of the original 3,700 were in rural communities that had one post office.

Rather than using volume as the primary factor, we believe geography and proximity should come into play. Urban areas offer multiple locations. So many, in fact, it is not hard for a resident to have ready access to half a dozen or more. With the even larger number of approved postal service sites inside grocery stores and pharmacies, eliminating post offices there would not eliminate access like the rural targets did.

The U.S. Postal Service has its work cut out for itself. It will need the same level of support for future battles that many elected officials offered in order to protect the rural facilities. Change will keep taking place at USPS. But with this two-year reprieve, perhaps enough time has been created to make necessary changes that do not adversely affect those of us living in rural parts of the country.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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