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.”