OTTUMWA — There may actually be some bright spots in the U.S. Postal Service future that has been darkened by consolidation, hour changes and massive financial losses.
While the Postal Service is still losing $25 million each day, blamed mostly on a dramatic decrease in First Class mail, efforts to balance the bottom line are being accelerated.
“There has been a significant decrease in the stamped, single piece of mail being sent,” said Richard Watkins, corporate communications spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in Kansas City. “This is mostly driven by electronic diversion, like paying bills online instead of mailing them in. This isn't unexpected. We understand that it's a free service, and it's tough to compete with free. But that changes how the post office sorts mail.”
In surrounding states, the plan to consolidate area mail processing facilities has been accelerated. Watkins says that now, with lack of legislation to help the postal service be more flexible, it was left with little choice.
“We looked at consolidating in Iowa, but the feasibility studies we received said it wasn't a good idea there,” he told the Courier. “With more than 800 post offices in Iowa, when you change one link in the chain, it affects the rest. This means we're not looking at consolidating in Iowa anymore right now.”
But for other parts of the country, including other Midwestern states, area mail processing facilities already scheduled for consolidation have been accelerated, with some even being completed yet this year.
“The mail volume regionally mirrors what is happening nationwide, but we're not consolidating in Iowa at this point,” Watkins reiterated.
The Postal Service has cut more than $15 billion in spending over past seven years and cut 200,000 career positions nationwide through attrition. Combine this with the consolidating process and shorter retail hours in rural areas, and officials are beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel while remaining realistic.
Many rural post offices, including a number in southeast Iowa, are facing shortened hours in their communities. Watkins says this was the “meeting halfway” solution to avoid shutting down offices completely.
“And that was based on feedback, or pushback, I guess you could say,” he said. “Residential customers in rural areas said, if you're looking at cutting costs, why not consider shorter hours and letting us keep our community identity. So we're implementing the Post Plan, which makes far more sense than closing altogether. It will decrease hours based on revenue and retail transactions.
Of all the post offices in the country, about a third of them, or approximately 13,000, are part of the Post Plan. Half of those 13,000 locations have already implemented the change in hours, and the rest are expected to be switched over before the end of 2014.
“The timeline is just where we expected. We knew it would take two years to make the transition,” Watkins said.