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Explainer: How the USPS Closed Town and Country's Post Office Without Full Approval

The USPS closed 124 post offices without going through full approval procedures in 2012 and 1,900 more are at risk in the next six months.

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow will stop the postmen, but an expired lease could.

The U.S. Postal Service has been closing more offices than approved by never reopening those temporarily shut in emergencies. With excuses like weather damage and expired leases, 124 offices across the country have been shuttered under the radar of full government oversight in the last year alone, and the number is growing.

These suspensions are in addition to a string of post office closures and reductions in operating hours at thousands of offices—part of an attempted $20 billion-saving effort, as the mail carrier approaches insolvency. 

One post office on the list was in the Manchester Meadows shopping center, between Weidman and Mason roads on Manchester. Town and Country officials says the office has been closed for about a year.

"It didn't help us any and we regret the loss of those services," Town and Country Mayor Jon Dalton tells Patch. He said he used to personally use that post office and misses the convenience of it, but points out that the city does have another post office near Clayton Road and Highway 141. "We miss it, but understand the budget realities of operating in today's world."

The post office there was suspended, officials said, because the lease expired and there was declining customer need there.

“The Postal Service may not have a written plan to use lease negotiations as a pretext to close post offices, but that seems to be what’s happening,” New York University professor Steve Hutkins wrote on his blog, Save The Post Office.

Making so many temporary emergency closures permanent is a tactic, some say, to get around having to earn proper approval. Under current law, the USPS is not allowed to close an office merely because of poor earnings—a significant rule since 80 percent of post offices lose money.

“There’s a lot of law about how you do a formal closure,” Hutkins said. “It takes months and months and costs the Postal Service time and money. If they declare an emergency suspension, though, they can close an office in one day.”

These indefinite-turned-permanent closures are made all the more noteworthy with 1,900 post office leases slated to expire during the first half of 2013.

In many cases, these are smaller towns with fewer alternatives and poor broadband to send communications that are vital to functionality, such as bill payments, voter ballots and tax filings.

In a 2012 report to Congress, the Postal Regulatory Commission—the independent oversight body for the Postal Service—wrote that they disapproved of the USPS’ approach to selecting which facilities should close, and said they failed “to ensure that sufficient access [to postal services] is maintained.” And that was just for the offices whose closures went through the thorough oversight procedure.

The rules currently state that closing a post office is a four month-long process with mandatory notifications and opportunity for community appeal. Emergency closures happen immediately without notice or need for justification beyond immediate physical threat.

"If the Postal Service was a private business, this would be tough luck for us," Hutkins said. "But it’s a government agency, and a government agency shouldn’t be treating us like this. They should be looking at the greater good, the good of the country."

Despite the fact that the USPS has eaten almost no tax dollars since 1982, many have suggested privatization to save the failing business, which is responsible for 40 percent of the entire world’s mail volume.

"Our existing business model is unsustainable," Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe told the U.S. Senate on Feb. 13. "Success can only be achieved when all stakeholders, including Congress, work together to put in place comprehensive and meaningful reform."

Postal closures have been a big issue with the federal government in the last year, with 24 bills relating to solving the USPS’ financial crisis, while it reported a $15.9 billion annual loss. They’ve already reduced mail service to five days a week but that only makes up for 10 percent of the needed savings. Donahoe told the Senate they also plan on eliminating 400,000 jobs.

Many are still fighting to keep individual post offices open. But if the greater cash flow issue isn’t solved soon, the USPS will go bankrupt and there won’t be any postal service at all—a fate Hutkins hopes to avoid.

“There’s so much mail, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “Seniors, the poor, people who aren’t sitting all day on their computers—they’re still very much living in the world of the mail.”

Scott Simon March 12, 2013 at 02:48 PM
This is such a poorly presented story by writers with a one-sided agenda. The lease expired but then later attributed the law that post offices can't be closed because of poor earnings. There's no financial balance sheet attribution for the performance of this post office and there's nothing in the law that says USPS has to entertain or negotiate leases. Therefore, there was no need for the story. Quoting a university professor with a one-sided blog is weak and lazy. So is misspelling the mayor's name. If you're going to publish an opinion article, identify it as such and don't try to pass it off blindly as legitimate news.
Gabrielle Biondo (Editor) March 12, 2013 at 03:01 PM
Scott- Thanks so much for the comment! I'll have to respectfully disagree with most of the comment, but I did misspell the mayor's name and it's been corrected (I should know better, I spell it quite a bit:). Thank you!
Scott Simon March 12, 2013 at 03:01 PM
Well I just had to do an Internet search to see the resumes of these writers and where they are located. Two 20-somethings from NYC and one of them working for Al Jazeera. No wonder they quoted an NYU professor! Imagine that - a group of east coast liberals who wondered about something beyond the Hudson River!
Scott Simon March 12, 2013 at 03:02 PM
Ok Gabrielle Biondo, let's see your explanation. Just saying you disagree doesn't cut it.
Mike Nolley March 13, 2013 at 06:20 AM
Scott, This has been going on for a while. Read the "Save the Post Office" articles, some written by a former postmaster. The Postal Service makes unreasonable demands on the owners of the buildings they are leasing. Then claim they can't reach a lease agreement and say the landlords are not renewing the lease and the Postal Service has no choice but to close that particular office. Besides, I was wondering what your resume is since you disagree with the NYU professor who has obviously done some research.
Stephanie R. March 13, 2013 at 06:11 PM
I'm glad the USPS is making tough demands on landlords regarding leases! Mike Nolley that's your opinion for whatever reason they're unreasonable but since you want to know people's agendas, what's your agenda about this since you have incomplete profile??? At least Simon has his filled out including a website or didn't you bother to look at it before you wrote?? There's nothing in the story that shows any type of effort to get the other side of the story. It's one-sided story, period.
Scott Simon March 14, 2013 at 02:10 PM
Mike Nolley, my background is in my profile and has been for nearly two years. And I really didn't expect an explanation from Gabrielle Biondo. Media types do not like being challenged and rarely if ever respond to challenges. BTW, what is "Explainer?" Is that the new word for "Commentary?" Again, media makes murky what it wants to present and how.
Mike Nolley March 14, 2013 at 03:03 PM
Scott, I'm not trying to criticize anyone's opinion here, and I do not have an agenda. I've worked for the Post Office for nearly forty years, and I do care about the future of the Service. Mostly, I thought your criticism of Prof. Hutkins was wasn't warranted. His internet blog is not fictional. He doesn't want to see the Postal Service close our rural offices that serve so many people that need their service. There are numerous stories on his blog written by people with insight on postal operations. And to me, from my experience with the Postal Service, they are accurate and not just one sided. Usually I find that most of our management people can't or won't comment on their decisions, so it isn't easy to find the other side of a story. And it is no secret that some politicians wouldn't mind if the Postal Service were privatized and their unions disappeared. By the way, that hasn't worked very well in other countries. No disrespect, but I can only base my opinions on what information is available to me, and there isn't much thoughtful commentary that leads me to believe that closing rural offices won't have much of an impact on that community.
Gabrielle Biondo (Editor) March 14, 2013 at 03:40 PM
Scott - as I said before. I stand by the article. Feel free to post all the comments you like - we appreciate reader feedback.
Scott Simon March 15, 2013 at 12:13 PM
Gabrielle - as I wrote before - feel free to explain why you disagree. Just disagreeing without a reason is weak. At least Mike Nolley gives an explanation. You can too.

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