George Landrift - Postal Service shortfalls impact rural areas

By GEORGE LANDRITH

Before the United States was a country, even before it declared its independence, the United States maintained a letter delivery service. In fact, the very first “long distance” route went between no other than Williamsburg, Va., and Portsmouth. Though the makeup of the service, which employs 600,000 workers nationwide, including almost 3,100 in New Hampshire, has changed greatly between then and now, its core function has remained the same – to provide a letter mail delivery service to every American, no matter where they live, at a reasonable rate.

Yet due to constantly evolving technologies and lack of effective leadership from the U.S. Postal Service, the quasi-government agency continues to stray far from that function. While this ultimately hurts all Americans, it especially threatens states with large rural populations, such as New Hampshire.

Today, we have other means to share information. But rural America lags behind more urban areas in internet use, which only makes the USPS that much more important in many areas of the country.

“Federal law requires the Postal Service to provide ‘a maximum degree of effective and regular postal services’ to rural areas and small towns,” the Washington Post reports.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Postal Service seems to be increasing service and product offerings in metropolitan centers like San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York, while they are shutting down mail processing facilities and decreasing service in other areas.

This past January, the U.S. Postal Service announced its intention to close 82 mail processing facilities across the country, reducing post office hours, and increasing delivery times. From this proposal, the areas that would be hurt most by these closures are small towns and rural areas. “Some of the nation’s poorest communities, many of them with spotty broadband Internet coverage, stand to suffer most,” the Post analysis found in 2012 when closures were only rumored.

Because of these closures, mail sometimes travels 90 miles out of the way before it reaches its intended recipient on the other side of town. Many have questioned the strategy to close the processing facilities in light of the resulting decline in service standards, which have steadily deteriorated over the last three years. “The postmaster general doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on in rural America, and it shows,” Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of the very rural state of Montana recently said.

Examples are the elimination of overnight delivery for local first class mail that would arrive the very next day and the lagging delivery times for first class mail. According to the USPS, first class mail, which is supposed to reach its recipient within 3-5 days, failed to meet that standard for over one-third of all mail delivered in the first seven weeks of 2015.

While service is languishing throughout most of the country, urban areas are seeing a bump in services from the USPS. Recently they expanded a service called Metro Post to other cities even though it earned $1 for every $10 invested – a 90 percent financial loss. Add this to other new ventures like grocery delivery – now expanding in New York City – as well as a potential move into banking services, and it’s clear that the trend has been to cut back on standard mail service, which everyone relies on, in order to move into other business ventures in big city markets.

All told, customers may not be getting what they pay for. Considering the stamp price increases, we can’t help but wonder if we are subsidizing their ill-fated experiments.

While the USPS will fail to elicit attention from the 2016 Presidential field, the issue is still important. The tentacles of the USPS touches too many corners of this nation to ignore its problems. Now is the time for the USPS to refocus its mission and remember its rural customers.

(George Landrith is the president of Frontiers of Freedom, a think tank in Fairfax, Va.)