21st Century Postal Reform Act includes Merkley Amendment to Save Rural Post Offices
Washington, DC- Yesterday, the United States Senate passed the bipartisan 21st Century Postal Service Act, which reforms the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and puts it on a path toward solvency. The bill includes an amendment offered by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) that prohibits the closure of rural post offices where such closure would have a substantial impact on small businesses, seniors’ access to medication and the economic strength of the community. Moreover, the amendment bars the closing of any post office if the next nearest post office is more than 10 road miles away.
“Today, the Senate worked in a bipartisan fashion to save the postal service America has depended on for over 200 years, and that is a major relief to seniors, small businesses, and rural communities,” Merkley said. “This is not a perfect bill, but it is far better than a wave of post office and processing center closings across Oregon, which is what will happen if we do nothing. I hope the House will take up our bill without delay and send it to the President, so all the folks in Tiller, Juntura, New Pine Creek, and other communities affected by potential closures can rest easy.”
The 21st Century Postal Service Act institutes many major reforms to the USPS intended to reduce its expenses, including relaxing pre-funding requirements for retiree health care benefits, returning $11 billion in pension overpayments, and restricting excessive executive compensation.
It also puts in place minimum service standards to ensure that postal customers receive the service they require. For example, the bill puts a two year moratorium on ending six-day delivery. The USPS would also have to maintain overnight delivery of first class mail and periodicals that originate and arrive within an area served by the same processing plant. To maintain this standard, USPS would utilize a number of regional processing centers that were previously slated for closure.
Critically, the Senate approved the Merkley-McCaskill Amendment, which protects critical rural post offices in three ways. First, it implements a one year moratorium on the closing of rural post offices. Second, it places a permanent ban on closing any rural post office that is not within 10 road miles of the next nearest post office. Third, when a post office is within 10 miles of the next nearest post office, the USPS would have to ensure that certain conditions are met, such as:
- Postal customers must continue to receive substantially similar access to essential services, such as prescription medication and time-sensitive communications that are sent through the mail;
- Businesses in the community must not suffer substantial economic loss, and the economic loss to the community resulting from the closure must not exceed the savings the Postal Service obtains by closing the post office; and
- The area served by the post office must have adequate access to wired broadband Internet service.
Last year, the USPS put forward a list of 41 Oregon post offices marked for closure. Twenty-one were subsequently removed from that list leaving 20 in danger. Under the Merkley-McCaskill amendment, 11 post offices will be immediately removed from the closure list with strict conditions required to consider closure of the remaining nine.