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New England Views: At rural post offices, a steady erosion of service

Many small-town post offices have suspected that their hours, if not days, are numbered. While the U.S. Postal Service in 2012 called off drastic plans to close many rural post offices, it has been proceeding apace with other budget-cutting measures, including curtailing counter service at post offices throughout the Upper Valley. In Corinth, Hartland Four Corners and Thetford, Vt., and in Piermont and Lyme Center, N.H., and beyond weekday service has been cut from eight hours to four or less.

Now, as part of a two-year national plan well under way, customer service is likely to be shortened at other local post offices as well. The current proposal calls for reducing weekday hours from more than seven to six in such places as East Corinth, Strafford, Thetford Center and Tunbridge, Vt. In North Hartland, Post Mills, South Pomfret and Vershire, among other Vermont towns, the hours would be halved to four, and in North Thetford, Vt., to just two. The U.S. Postal Service is near completion of a review targeting window service at 32 post offices in the region, according to spokeswoman Melissa Lohnes, who said the operational changes instituted nationwide so far have saved significant amounts of money. “Given our dire financial condition, we need this boost now,” she said.

In light of the fact that the agency originally intended to close several thousand rural post offices throughout the country and eliminate Saturday delivery, proposals to further curtail weekday hours might not seem so bad. Even so, the news is dispiriting. Post offices represent a vital government service, and closing more of them for longer periods of time is an inconvenience, and oftentimes a hardship, for people who still need to mail letters and packages, buy stamps or pay bills through the mail – as many do in rural areas.

Furthermore, post offices in rural regions have long served as informal community centers where patrons often encounter friends and acquaintances, and exchange news, information and gossip. Cutting back on service may increase some residents’ social isolation, especially those who look forward to their habitual trip to post office (post boxes will remain accessible even if counter service is closed). It is ironic that the Postal Service, which blames its financial misfortunes in part on email and digital communication, has chosen to make significant cutbacks on the far side of the digital divide, in areas where broadband technology still lags and people actually rely on old-fashioned mail.

The agency, which is hemorrhaging billions annually, has focused on rural post offices because they are expensive to operate and don’t generate much revenue. But as Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California has pointed out, budget cuts to the smallest post offices don’t add up to much relative to the Postal Service’s total budget. Operating the country’s 10,000 smallest post offices costs about $600 million a year, or less than one-eighth of the $5 billion spent on the U.S. network of 32,000 post offices in 2012, according to Issa, who favors consolidation in more populated areas.

The steady erosion of postal services in rural regions may seem inevitable. But if residents are displeased about current plans, we urge them to attend meetings scheduled to discuss the changes afoot. Notices will be delivered to residents according to ZIP code, and the meeting schedule is available through the USPS website by searching for “Post Plan.” Widespread dissatisfaction with the original plan to close many rural post offices forced the Postal Service to think again. Users aren’t likely to have too much sway now, but they should make their objections known nonetheless. If Congress isn’t going to save the post office from irrelevance – or cancellation – the people who use it should at least speak up.

Legacy Comments7

Maybe instead of thinking about 3 day mail service, a quick look at the facts would be helpful. In 2006, when the Postal Service was quite profitable, Congress passed the "Postal Accountability Act" requiring the USPS to prefund 75 years worth of future retiree health benefits. There is no other federal agency or private business required to do this and this outrageous burden needs to be removed. Perhaps ItsaRepublic has no idea that the USPS provides some of the services to the companies he claims have made the PO a dinosaur. I cannot imagine that a privatized postal service would continue to serve any of the unprofitable communities and universal service would quickly become a thing of the past. Those areas that are already lacking internet service would be further harmed or taxpayers would have to pick up the bill. Currently taxpayers do NOT pay for mail service!

Congress also had a lot to do with the problems at the USPS. With their demand on pensions. It may not be the old post office, but still many rural towns depend on it. I received many Christmas cards this year and I look forward to getting something personal. I am old enough to remember when there were two deliveries every day. And I am still surprised at how quickly something I send is delivered. I think we could all live with a 4 day delivery or even 3, but we need the post office. Look what happened to FedEx and UPS last month.

Though no one likes to admit it all traces of the "olden days" are quickly vanishing. We live in a society where nostalgia is just a memory. The Country is all but gone, social hour Saturday morning at the dump is history and so to will be the social center once known as the Post Office. The once valued service of the PO has been decimated by e-mail and profits stripped by UPS and Fedex. Seriously, who takes time to write letters anymore? Postal mail has been reduced to bills, bulk advertisement, periodicals but little more which is really the harbinger of doom for the USPS. My bills are all electronic and I can't remember the last letter I received that wasn't an email. If we could only slow down life a bit, alas we can't even be without a smartphone............

No Country For Old Men GCarson. Parents stopped teaching their kids to write thank you cards, and folks just do not write letters anymore, which is very sad considering a lot of elderly folks would appreciate getting a letter in the mail. There are many old fashion ways that are now long gone sadly, like manners, respect and being humble. Add to the list a work ethic being taught to our kids, and the fact that we have stopped our boys from being boys. That just might be why we have so many angry young men. I lived in Japan and I can tell you that the kids there are delightful and the elderly are treated as a treasure that passes down knowledge to future generations. Not so much in the USA.

So very true. I would also like to add parenting to the list of bygone values. I also think too much emphasis is placed on the mighty $$$ and shortcuts to get them. I came across a number of letters I had written and received back in the sixties, and there is a lot to be said about finding them. How often do you stumble across old emails? But alas change happens.

Who needs 6 day a week mail? Few. The USPS takes in the most cash mailing us all junk mail that the vast majority of gets tossed in the trash can. Patently absurd is the whole entire picture, from every possible angle one looks at it. Last year those who run the whole postal mess proposed ending Saturday delivery which they said would eliminate 2 billion of the postal service deficit. The GOP Congress then stepped in and told them no, without any thought or negotiation, pretty hypocritical from those who are crying "cut our debt" at every possible political sound byte opportunity. It is time for Americans to step back and realize we'll all live just fine with reduced mail services, like residential delivery 3 days a week for example. If businesses need delivery 6 days a week, let them pay a bit more for the services. No other country tries to operate their postal delivery 5 days a week and here in the US we need to realize we'll all live just fine reduced services. Let those hired to manage the postal service manage it without any more interference from Congresspeople who know absolutely nothing about it. Or editorial writers of backwoods newspapers.

I agree with most of what you suggest. I think that mail on Monday, Wednesday and Friday would work out just fine. But it is the rich pensions, refusal of folks to retire, etc. that has broken the post office. Electronic mail, better service for profit like UPS and FEDEX have rendered the post office a dinosaur.

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