Thursday, January 01, 2015

Postal plant closures to resume, further slowing mail; rural newspapers worry about impact

Mail delivery is likely to get even slower soon as the U.S. Postal Service goes through with its plans to close dozens of regional mail-sorting centers, and that worried publishers of rural weekly newspapers that rely on the USPS not just for delivering papers, but also bills to subscribers and advertisers.

"The Postal Service plans to close 82 mail processing centers nationwide next year, starting on Jan. 10," Josh Hicks reports for The Washington Post. "USPS officials have said the consolidation plan will help the financially struggling agency save money and adjust to dwindling demand for first-class mail, one of its core services. But critics say the program will slow down delivery times and harm the agency’s brand. In October, the USPS inspector general released a report saying the Postal Service was leaving communities in the dark about the impacts of the changes. Auditors found incomplete impact studies for all of the 95 mail-processing facilities that are due to absorb operations from other centers. The Postal Service said it could not complete the statutorily required analyses because it had not yet finalized its new processing guidelines."

USPS has consolidated 350 processing plants since 2006 and has closed 143 in the last three years, Hicks reports, citing the service's annual report to Congress. "The next phase of consolidation will increase delivery times and eliminate overnight delivery for 'a large portion of First-Class Mail and periodicals,' according to the inspector general’s report."

Newspaper interests reached strongly to the news. The postmaster general "is mailing everyone in rural America a lump of coal this holiday season," wrote Dave Bordewyk, executive director of the South Dakota Newspaper Association., said in an email to members of the National Newspaper Association's Postal Committee.

"It appears we will be on our own in rural America in figuring out how to provide timely delivery of our newspapers – but then we have been dealing with that problem for some time. It will now get even worse," wrote Reed Anfinson, publisher of Minnesota's Swift County Monitor News and recent past president of the NNA.

In NNA's monthly newspaper, PubAux, a story headlined "Rural service declines as USPS builds urban strategy," Postal Committee Chairman Max Heath writes, "A second major problem is the “brain drain” within the U.S. Postal Service, as veterans with knowledge of mail acceptance and rules, especially Periodicals, a complex class, retire and people move up with much less knowledge and experience. Thirdly, there is a decline in customer service as postmasters and clerks with whom mailers, especially newspapers, have had a long-standing relationship, retire or move on. All too often, people are afraid to make a customer-friendly decision that they lack the experience to make, and their supervisors higher up are often equally untrained." Heath's column offers examples.

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