Monday, January 09, 2012

Eastern Ky. radio station gets community reaction to county's nine proposed post office closures

Response to the prospect that the U.S. Postal Service might close thousands of rural post offices and processing centers keeps popping up across the nation. Mimi Pickering and Sylvia Ryerson of community radio station WMMT in Whitesburg, Ky., spoke with residents, postal employees and American Postal Workers Union leaders to ascertain the reasons for closures and the feelings attached to rural post offices. WMMT also started a "Post Office Stories" blog on on which people from the community can share their stories about local post offices.

Nine post offices in Letcher County (Wikipedia map), where Whitesburg is the county seat, have been slated for closure. The post office in Burdine was opened in 1898, and residents told Ryerson and Pickering it is woven into the fabric of the community. "The post office is really the only identity we've got. I'm afraid the community won't exist when post office closes," Wayne Flemming, the district's representative in county government, told Ryerson and Pickering. "When they talk about shutting our post office down, it's like shutting down our whole community."

The concerns with closure are the same in Letcher County as they are in other rural places where post offices face a similar fate: longer drives to pick up mail, disabled coal miners and veterans fear they won't receive medication on time and fears about the loss of a sense of community.

Tim Reynolds, Postal Service post-office review coordinator in Kentucky, is overseeing consolidation plans in the state. He told Ryerson and Pickering the service has been in business for over 200 years and he expects it to remain in business, but it has to change the way it does business. The agency blames the economic downturn and a societal shift toward electronic media for its dire financial situation. However, Postal Workers Union Communications Director Sally Davidow told Ryerson and Pickering this is a manufactured crisis and closures could be avoided through congressional action. All the agency's financial problems stem from the enactment of the the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, she said. The act requires pre-funding of healthcare benefits of retirees. Ryerson and Pickering report the Postal Service has been running at a loss since that law passed in 2006. To hear the WMMT report, click here.

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