On Wednesday, May 9, the U.S. Postal Service backed off from a plan to close 3,700 post offices, most in rural areas, as it tries to reduce massive debt that threatens its operations.
"I think it is wonderful that the post office is staying open," said Elizabeth resident Allene James. "Even if it is reduced to four hours a day, we will at least have service. The post office is our information center -- where people meet and learn what is going on."
"This is great news for the First Congressional District," Justin Gibbs, an aide to Congressman Rick Crawford told The News. "The postal service wanted to close 200 post offices in Arkansas, and 100 of them are in our district in north east and north central Arkansas."
Congressman Crawford has helped lead the fight in Congress against closing rural post offices. He had just made a floor speech in Washington urging the postal service not to resume closures on May 15 as planned, when Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe announced a new plan to deal with small post offices, in light of declining usage.
In March, Donahoe agreed to stop scheduled closings until May 15 to give Congress an opportunity to help it devise an acceptable cost-cutting program. While the Senate has passed a bill, the House has not acted, and closings were to resume.
Under a new policy, the Postal Service has agreed to stop closing offices, but more than 13,000 offices will see reductions in the hours that their retail service windows are open to sell stamps, accept packages and provide other services. Instead of being open eight hours a day, Monday through Friday, the affected post offices will provide retail services for only two to six hours. All post offices will continue to allow 24 hour access to post office boxes which customers rent.
"The plan will ensure rural communities will be served by the Postal Service," Donahoe said. "It balances reducing cost with the need to serve rural America."
According to Donahoe, cutting post office hours will allow the postal service to save $500 million a year by reducing full-time staff.
Following a meeting with postal officials, Crawford said when the new policy takes effect, the Camp and Sturkie Post Offices will be open for retail service just two hours a day, the Elizabeth and Glencoe Post Offices will be open four hours a day and the Viola Post Office hours will be reduced to six hours a day. All of the post offices have been open eight hours a day, except Sturkie, which operates six hours a day.
|4,000 rural post offices will keep their full time hours, and the Salem Post Offices is apparently one of them. It is not on the list of post offices which will reduce operating hours.||The postal service must seek regulatory approval and public input before it can implement the new plan, so it may be two years before the reduced hours are implemented.|
"People in our district rely on their post office for medicine, deliveries, social security and veterans' benefits," Crawford said. "This plan is not perfect. Retail hours will be limited. However, Congess now has time to reform the Postal Service while maintaining service to rural communities."
The postal service, which is losing $36 million a day, wants permission to implement aggressive cost cutting measures immediately, because it may be out of money by late summer.
The Gepp Post Office, which was closed in August of 2011 under an Emergency Suspension, is not on the list of post offices which will operate under reduced hours. The postal service was trying to close the Gepp post office because it was not profitable, when it was suddenly closed under an Emergency Suspension.
The postal service claimed it could not find a replacement for times the officer in charge, who ran the post office, had to be off work. In December of 2011, the Postal Regulatory Commission questioned whether a true emergency existed when the post office was closed.
It has ordered the postal service to address concerns as to whether Gepp residents have been treated fairly, and there is still a possibility the Gepp Post Office could be re-opened.
|The postal service had also planned to close 252 mail processing centers, including plants in Jonesboro and Fayetteville. It has indicated it will soon also announce changes to that plan as well.|