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Changes in the US Postal Service will be a painful, lengthy process

We don’t often see a situation where a government agency says they want to dramatically reduce their spending and Congress says, “No, thanks.” That’s pretty much the case as the United States Postal Service (USPS) grapples with billions in losses in 2012 and beyond.

Most folks know the amount of mail delivered each year by USPS is dropping like a rock. The numbers vary, but they hover around 25 percent less since 2006. And this trend is only picking up steam.

It’s easy to see why, as the digital age continues to change  how people communicate and access information in all sorts of ways. But USPS has a plan to help stem the losses. Cuts and reorganization are already happening, but there are a number of fundamental changes that need to be made to stop bleeding.

The USPS plan focuses on 3 areas of service that would mean significant pain for residents all over the country. The least popular is the closing of over 3700 of the least-profitable rural post offices all over the country. Since many small towns rely heavily on their post office, this is a big hit for small-town America. The Mt. Baldy post office is the only location in the Claremont area on this list.

The other 2 service cuts involve eliminating overnight and Saturday delivery. These are also very unpopular choices, largely due to expectations of the public, concerns from business and the huge amount of mail this would impact.

These proposals would also hurt the newspaper industry in a variety of ways. So here’s using the COURIER as an example. Although Claremont is located in a highly populated area, thus minimizing any post office closings, as a newspaper we are guaranteed overnight delivery to key zip codes. We print the paper Tuesday and Friday nights, then deliver to our readers on Wednesday and Saturday.

If given the chance, USPS would put newspapers in the same delivery category as junk mail, thus adding a day to our delivery time. We already had to fight this issue (successfully) because of current cost-cutting measures.

But these cost-cutting proposals happen to be very unpopular with voters, too. Congressional leaders in an election year are brutally aware of this, especially since there are so many organizations fighting these cuts. The National Newspaper Association (NNA) has been a leader in trying to find alternatives to help USPS solve their budget crisis without cutting many key services or costing taxpayers money.

The good news is Congress is involved. The bad news is Congress is involved.

Congress has oversight over USPS and has to approve any cuts in services. That’s a good thing because the post office is not particularly adept at making itself more efficient (I’m being nice here) and will propose or make changes without looking at the real impact to their business.

The NNA has stepped in, supporting and shaping a bill (S. 1789) that focuses on changing how USPS handles their benefit funds, which currently have liberal rules on payments. It also changes the criteria of what is deemed a “profitable” post office and gives small communities a voice to review all options before closing down a local office. The bill is not a bailout, as so many budget hawks like to call it.

But Congress is involved, which means any change will happen slowly (I’m being nice again). There are many other ideas on how to handle this mess, so USPS will remain in the news way past the elections in November.

For the COURIER, we will sit and watch how things develop. Although changes may be in the wind, it’s important to remember Claremont has a healthy community newspaper and website, with a lot of public and business support.

So whatever happens, we will deal with change and continue to deliver accurate, unbiased news coverage to Claremont residents. If you have an idea or thought on COURIER delivery, I’m all ears.

—Peter Weinberger

pweinberger@claremont-courier.com

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