Monday, February 08, 2010

USPS closing rural post offices across the country under rules meant for suspension of service

Has a rural post office closed near you recently? It's not the only one, and the U.S. Postal Service may be using a loophole to avoid the usual closing procedure. A three-page handwritten letter from an 87-year-old Hacker Valley, W.Va., woman whose post office recently closed has spurred the federal Postal Regulatory Commission to "investigate whether the Postal Service violated procedures or the will of Congress when it shut down Hacker Valley and 96 other post offices in 34 states over the past five years," P.J. Dickerschield of The Associated Press reports.

The cutbacks "have fallen most heavily on poor, rural communities, where the post office is not just a place to buy stamps, but a gathering spot where townspeople trade news and gossip," Dickerschield writes. USPS cited soon-to-be expiring leases as emergency justification for suspending nearly 100 post offices. "Ultimately, 25 were officially closed, five are facing closure, and Hacker Valley and 64 others are in limbo," Dickerschield reports.

Post office closures normally require 60 days notice, opportunities for public comment, an accounting of the reasons for the decision and an opportunity for residents to appeal, Dickerschield reports. A suspension, supposedly reserved for natural disasters, health or safety hazards or unanticipated lease problems, doesn't carry the same requirements. Under suspensions, the office is not technically closed, "but as far as customers are concerned it's not open," Norm Scherstrom told Dickerschield. (Read more)

Residents of some affected communities, including Midland, Ohio; Coralville, Iowa; Crescent Lake, Ore.; Prairie City, S.D.; Laketon, Ind.; and Howell, Utah, are hoping Congress intervenes and rescues their post offices, Dickerschield reports. At least one rural post office has already been saved, reportedly by congressional intervention. USPS officials rescinded the emergency suspension order for the closure of the Clifty post office in Todd County, Kentucky, after urging from Republican U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, the News-Democrat and Leader in adjoining Logan County reports. The Todd County Standard also reported the decision; here is its blog item.

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