Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said he is responding to an outcry from rural areas fighting to preserve jobs, service and identities offered by their post office.
“When we announced those closures, what people said to us was, ‘Keep our post office open,’ ” he said. “We have to have shorter hours. But if we can shrink the labor costs, we can keep the buildings open.” Plans to close
223 mail-sorting hubs remain, he said.
Although low revenue and poor foot traffic had made rural outposts vulnerable for closure, lawmaker opposition was hurting the prospects of a House bill to overhaul the Postal Service’s finances. The agency is headed for $14 billion in losses this year, and postal officials have said that without congressional intervention,
they are so squeezed on costs and revenue that
they will default on their obligations.
A bill passed by the Senate last month placed restrictions on most post office closings, placating senators from Maine to Wyoming. But the House bill, which demands more cost savings, allows the closings to proceed, prompting bipartisan opposition from House members representing rural districts.
“If the House bill came to the floor, there would have been an uprising in both parties,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who has joined forces with Rep. Michael G. Grimm (R-N.Y.) in fighting the closures.
Vermont would have lost 15 post offices. Although he called two hours of daily service “not adequate” and “treating rural Americans like second-class citizens,” Welch praised the new plan for shorter hours as a compromise that’s “better than closure.”
Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) told House leaders in a recent letter signed by 12 rural Republicans that the Postal Service “may be misguided in targeting rural postal facilities as a means of addressing its shortfall.”
Ali Ahmad, a spokesman for House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the bill’s sponsor, said the congressman is “continuing to work with rural members to address their concerns about their constituents’ access to postal services.”
In a statement, Issa said postal officials need to make deeper cuts to the retail network, looking for cost savings beyond rural post offices to suburban and urban ones.
Donahoe said the Postal Service’s new strategy would take effect over two years and save $500 million in labor costs, up from an estimated $200 million that the closures of 3,700 post offices would have saved. The Postal Service plans to offer early retirement incentives to 21,000 postmasters; about 13,000 are now eligible for retirement.