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Rep. Owens seeks to avoid rural post office closures

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Rep. William L. Owens and about 100 colleagues are encouraging the restructuring of the U.S. Postal Service, but not to include closure of 3,600 or more rural post offices nationwide.

In a March 27 letter addressed to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and other members of Congress suggested that closing all of those rural post offices would save less than 1 percent of the Postal Service’s annual operating budget, and would not “have a significant impact in closing the Postal Service’s approximately $9 billion budget deficit.”

Their suggestion: restructure the Postal Service’s $5.5 billion annual Retirement Health Benefit prefunding requirement.

“Clearly, the place you would want to go in making a solid business decision would be getting rid of this excess funding,” Mr. Owens said Wednesday.

The letter said the 2006 prefunding law required that the Postal Service prefund 100 percent of anticipated retirement and retirement health costs, “a requirement that no other public or private entity in America faces.” That was compared to many organizations with prefund requirements up to only 80 percent.

Also addressed is the Postal Service overpayment of $10 billion into the Federal Employees Retirement System, and how refunding that would have a larger impact than reducing mail service from six to five days per week.

Throughout this process, Mr. Owens said, his office has heard from constituents who are Postal Service customers at many north country post offices that have been targeted for closure. Those people, he said, have reached out to him for support.

Post offices in Deferiet, Ellisburg, West Stockholm, Hailesboro and Fishers Landing are among about 100 upstate New York post offices that are being targeted for closure. The Postal Service also is considering closing locations in Parishville, DePeyster, Lorraine, Thousand Island Park, Cranberry Lake, Dickinson Center, Fine, Newton Falls, Piercefield, Pyrites, Rainbow Lake, Brier Hill and Wanakena.

Currently, there is a moratorium on the closing or consolidating of any post office or mail processing facility until May 15.

Mr. Owens said unfortunately at this point, a letter to the House speaker and minority leader is “the most physical thing we can do.”

He said he expects to hear back from the Postal Service before the moratorium expires.

Maureen P. Marion, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Postal Service’s Albany District, said all points raised in the March 27 letter are consistent with the message being disseminated all over.

“There’s a lot of work to be done at the congressional level,” she said. “Those large issues are out of our hands — they’re legislation issues that need to be addressed. We’re looking for Congress to give us flexibility. We lost $3.3 billion in the first quarter this year.”

According to Ms. Marion, the Postal Service’s business plan to financial stability includes reducing annual costs by $22.5 billion by 2016. According to a Postal Service news release, the move is necessary, given projected declines in first-class mail volume, which already has dropped by 25 percent since 2006.

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