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Springfield mail processing center to close

Saturday, March 3, 2012

U.S. Postal Service officials told workers at the regional mail processing center in Springfield last week that the service plans to cut 200 jobs at the center by the end of 2012, and move operations to a bigger processing center in Kansas City.

Once consolidation is complete, letters and packages mailed across the area will go to Kansas City, and then return to their respective town post offices to be delivered. The change will eliminate next-day deliveries except for, possibly, mailings made at a rural post office that go to another address served by that same post office.

Since September 2011, the U.S. Postal Service has been studying whether to move mail processing from Springfield to Kansas City to save money as part of a $3 billion cost reduction plan aimed at helping the agency avert bankruptcy. That study caused an outcry in the Ozarks from people who feel that rural areas in the state are being adversely affected by shrinking government budgets.

Locally, the Brandsville and Moody post offices have been studied for closure. Myrtle was studied to reduce hours, and the Pottersville Post Office turned over two rural routes to West Plains.

In a press release, the Postal Service said it will not close any processing centers around the country until May 15 at the request of Congressional representatives who protested the closures. (See the letter to the editor, Page 4A, by U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau.)

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Kansas City, earlier this month announced proposals to keep rural post offices open and maintain six-day mail delivery for at least the next four years.

At a Kansas City post office this month, McCaskill cited Missouri families and businesses who rely on the Postal Service for everything from life-saving prescriptions to veterans benefits as she outlined a plan to keep those services safe.

"Families and businesses in Missouri know that our post offices are more than just brick and mortar. Postal service is a lifeblood for our communities," said McCaskill, a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees the Postal Service. "There is a commonsense plan to keep this vital service alive, especially in our rural towns. Folks across the state have made their voices heard, and I'm ready to go to bat for our rural communities."

Congress is currently considering legislation to: close approximately 3,700 post offices, including 167 in Missouri; close more than 250 mail processing facilities; eliminate Saturday mail delivery; and ending overnight delivery standards for first class mail.

McCaskill noted that rural post offices constitute less than 1 one percent of the USPS budget. Even if all rural post offices across the country were closed, the USPS would be virtually no closer to resolving its financial challenges, she said.

McCaskill wants her proposals added to the 21st Century Postal Service Act, which addresses the U.S. Postal Service's massive revenue problems.

The Postal Service is an independent agency of government, but it does not receive tax money, though it is subject to congressional control on major aspects of its operations.

The Postal Service is projected to lose a record $14.1 billion this year as increased Internet use reduces mail volume. A plan to close 252 mail processing centers and 3,700 local post offices has been put on hold until mid-May.

McCaskill's proposal would allow the independent Postal Regulatory Commission to prevent post offices from being shut down when the Postal Service did not present communities alternatives to closure, such as reducing hours of operation.

McCaskill's proposal to continue six-day mail delivery for four years is two years longer than is proposed in the 21st Century Postal Service Act.

McCaskill also wants to maintain one- to three-day delivery standards for first class mail. The Postal Service has proposed changing this standard to two to three days, but those changes were put on hold at the same time as the post office closures. President Barack Obama has advocated allowing the agency to reduce mail delivery by one day per week to save money.

McCaskill's plan also calls for saving money by reducing agency payments into an account to fund future retiree health benefits. Annual payments into that account now total $5.5 billion. McCaskill has proposed cutting those payments to between $3 billion and $3.5 billion annually. She is also asking for a commission to be established that can recommend a new business model for the postal service to "achieve long-term fiscal sustainability within one year."

But, if those efforts fail to ensure the Postal Service remains self-sustaining, McCaskill said it would be reasonable for the government to help subsidize it.

"We have underwritten the government in various ways -- the last mile electrical service in this country, the last mile of phone service in this country," McCaskill said in a prepared statement. "If we are going to underwrite some of these other services as a government, I don't understand why we can't slightly underwrite the postal service as a government so that these rural communities have that service also."

Postal Service administrators said Springfield processing center employees who lose their jobs will be eligible to transfer to other cities, but only if there are job openings in those cities caused by retirements or resignations.

The exact closure date has not been released.

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