Small towns got good news Wednesday when the U.S. Postal Service announced that some 3,700 low-revenue post offices would remain open, but with shorter hours, instead of being closed on Tuesday.
Retiring Sen. Ben Nelson wasn't under the same pressure as his colleagues to see the small post offices remain open, but nevertheless welcomed the news.
"I am encouraged that the Postal Service recognizes the important role Post Offices play, especially in our rural communities, and is looking at alternatives to closures," Senator Nelson said. "While the announcement this week puts off the immediate closing of Post Offices, including 90 in our state, the Postal Service's plans to significantly reduce their hours needs further examination.
And, he did offer some apt observations:
"For months, I've said that cutting postal services and facilities is not a winning formula for the Postal Service's future. Congress needs to act now to modernize the Postal Service for the 21st Century. Further delay only increases uncertainty for Nebraska communities that rely on postal services for delivery of the mail, medicines, local newspapers and more."
Under the new plan, which is expected to save the USPS $500 million, post offices that are still open will remain open, but as few as two hours a day. One hundred and eleven Nebraska post offices were affected, including Max, Edison, Wilsonville, Lebanon, Enders, Champion, Danbury, Stockville and Farnam. Parks was already closed, but Herndon and Norcatur in Kansas were also on the bubble.
The Postal Service is between a rock and a hard place, with mail volume dropping by 43 billion pieces, a 20 percent decline. A congressional mandate that the USPS prepay retirement benefits to the tune of $5.5 billion per year -- $11 billion paid out so far -- has exacerbated the problem.
Like most businesses or public institutions, salaries are the largest expense on the USPS balance sheets, and little has been said about bringing labor costs more into line with those in the communities they serve.
Wednesday's reprieve is welcome news for towns that depend on timely mail delivery, but over the long term, the postal service must adapt modern conditions and adopt technology and business models that make its services self-sustaining.