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Congressman Crawford files bill to protect rural post offices

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Congressman Rick Crawford recently spoke with residents of Grubbs, Arkansas about the Postal Service's attempt to close their post office. Crawford has introduced a bill that would prevent the closing of any rural post office that does not have an alternative post office within eight miles, accessible by public roads. Photo by Richard Irby
Unemployment, the federal budget deficit and America's uncertain future are topics citizens are certain to discuss if a U.S. Senator or Representative is around.

But the U.S. Postal Service's attempt to close small post offices is a hot topic in the First Congressional District, as Congressman Rick Crawford meets with citizens.

"My district stands to lose 100 post offices," said Crawford, during a recent stop at a rural post office. "Post office closures are a real issue in Northeast Arkansas."

To back up that statement, Crawford points out 211 post offices are targeted for closure in Arkansas, so it is unfair that 100 are in his very rural district.

Citizen concern about losing their post offices inspired Crawford to introduce legislation he calls "The Protecting Our Rural Post Offices Act."

House Resolution 3370 seeks to prohibit the Postal Service from closing rural post offices that do not have an alternative post office within eight miles, that is accessible by public roads, not "as the crow flies," the standard the Postal Service now uses.

According to Crawford, rural roads are rarely straight so a post office 10-miles away is actually much father on actual winding roads.

Crawford acknowledges the Postal Service has serious financial problems that must be fixed, and some post offices may have to close. But the congressman believes that the Postal Service is targeting too many rural post offices, and rural Americans are being burdened with the majority of closures.

"Americans living in rural communities rely on their post offices for medicine deliveries, social security benefits and countless other reasons," Crawford said. "Access should not be limited to only urban areas."

Residents served by the Elizabeth Post office say, if their post office is closed, they will have to travel to Henderson or Viola for postal service. They say both are located about 14-miles from Elizabeth, too far away to provide convenient service.

The Postal Service held a community meeting on Dec. 15 at Elizabeth First Baptist Church to seek public input on the proposal to close the Elizabeth Post Office.

A hearing for Camp residents will be held on Dec. 20 at 5:30 p.m. at the Camp Volunteer Fire Department to discuss the potential closing of the Camp Post Office.

It appears, if Crawford's legislation passes, the Postal Service would have a difficult time closing the Elizabeth and Camp post offices, because the new post offices which would serve them are more than eight miles away, by public roads.

Justin Gibbs, Crawford's spokesperson in Washington D.C., told The News the "Protecting Our Rural Post Offices Act" has been filed and Crawford is now seeking co-sponsors to support the bill.

"There has been tremendous positive reaction to the bill, because of the large number of rural post offices that are listed for closure across the U.S.," Gibbs said. "Of course, there is less support by members (of Congress) who represent urban areas."

As issues are considered, Gibbs added, there is often a divide between rural and urban lawmakers, much like the partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats.

"People in urban areas just don't get it," said Gibbs. "Those who live in cities probably have a post office just a few blocks away but, in rural areas, the closest post office may be 15-miles away on twisting, winding roads. Closing rural post offices puts people, especially senior citizens, at a disadvantage."

Crawford has urged the Postal Service to give top priority to cutting soaring labor costs, which make up 80 percent of its total costs, to get a handle on losses, which are running at nearly $10 billion a year.

According to Crawford, the Postal Service would save only about $200 million if all of the 3,653 post offices that it has listed for closure were closed - a savings that would do little to rectify the massive deficit problem.

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