Moapa Valley Progress
In an attempt to alleviate some of the financial woes plaguing the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), a bill has been introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives which would implement various cost-savings measures, prevent another general fund bailout and bring the cash-strapped agency to financial stability. The Postal Reform Act of 2013 (H.R. 2748), presented by Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.), passed out of Committee last Wednesday by a 22-7 vote split along party lines. It is now expected to go to the floor of the House for a vote.
But critics of the bill say that most of the pain of the bill’s cost-cutting measures would hit rural residents the hardest.
The sweeping bill proposes a number of changes to the business of the USPS. It would permit the phase-out of “to the door” delivery by 2022, shifting instead to curbside and clusterbox delivery. It would also phase out the Saturday delivery of mail, maintaining only the delivery of packages and medicine on Saturdays. It would also make financial changes to the USPS retiree health care benefits and place limits on non-cash compensation to very senior postal executives. And it would include a provision that would ease requirements to pre-fund billions of dollars in pensions for future retirees, which has been cited as one of the major causes of the agency’s fiscal decline.
But where the bill may strike a blow to rural residents is in its lowering of quality standards currently being required of the USPS. Currently the USPS must meet a certain “Maximum Service Standard” established by law. In part, this means that the Post Office must deliver six days a week to every address that has mail. Critics say that if that standard is removed, it opens the gate for sharply reduced services in rural areas. They fear that rural delivery services could be contracted out to a private carrier and cut back to only one or two days a week, similar to the way UPS or FedEx operates currently in Moapa Valley.
“H.R. 2748 would endanger the quality of mail service in rural America by lowering the standard of quality to which the Postal Service must adhere,” said Mark Strong, President of the National League of Postmasters, during a speech he made at the League’s 110th Convention in San Diego last week. “The bill also eliminates the public policy provision in the law that ensures that urban and rural American receive parity in mail services. Under H.R. 2748, rural citizens would inevitably become second-class citizens.”
Earlier this month, a separate bill (H.R. 2615) was introduced by Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb), which aimed to ensure that rural post offices were not inappropriately targeted for closure. It would cap rural closures at 5 percent of total USPS office closures in any given year. It would also set guidelines for closing or consolidating any post office to ensure those affected by such changes would maintain access to the Postal Service.
H.R. 2748 includes provisions of Smith’s bill and takes the language a step further to require the USPS to review broadband penetration, cellular phone service and distance to the closest replacement service in determining whether to close rural postal facilities.
But Strong said that this was not enough to protect rural access to Postal Services.
“While HR 2748 purported to include Congressman Adrian Smith’s Rural Postal Services Act, it incorporated Smith’s bill in a way that effectively gutted much of the bill’s protections,” Strong said.
He said this is due to an emphasis in H.R. 2748 toward privatization of mail services. For example, according to Strong, residents in small rural towns could end up without the ability to send a care package from their hometown to their son or daughter serving overseas in the military, or who is away at college. This is because H.R. 2748 would allow rural communities, in some cases, to be served solely by contract stations which do not offer all the services of a full service Post Office, Strong said.
Logandale postmaster De Smith said admitted that it was unlikely that Moapa Valley would be affected in such a drastic manner. But she said it was an issue that local residents should be paying attention to. Earlier this year, the Moapa Post Office experienced reduction of operating hours.
“This could very well affect us eventually in this community in some way,” said Smith.