Rural post offices get reprieve in Senate-passed measure

Bennet, Udall offer tweaks helping small operations

WASHINGTON – The Senate passed a bill to keep the U.S. Postal Service running for a few more years and saving rural offices by cutting excessive payments to pensions.

The measure, which now goes to the House, passed by a 62–37 vote. The bill also saves Saturday delivery for two years. It will return $11 billion in overpayments in pensions, and allow the Postal Service to give early retirement incentives.

Both of Colorado’s U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall played roles protecting rural communities from post-office closures by passing several amendments streamlining the U.S. Postal Service.

Reforming the U.S. Postal Service is a bipartisan push larging determined by rural and urban states, more than the more typical party divide.

A Bennet-sponsored amendment placing a moratorium on rural postal closures until after the 2012 election passed.

“States like Colorado cast 70 percent of their votes through mail in the 2010 election. I don’t think it’s for Washington to decide how we run the elections, and the disruption this causes could be serious,” Bennet said in a call with reporters on Tuesday.

Udall also offered a successful amendment allowing rural postal closures only if they satisfy a lengthy list of conditions meant to protect them.

Conditions include proof that seniors or people with disabilities can receive a similar service they already get from their local post office, economic stability in the community, access to broadband Internet, and the closest alternative post office should be within 10 miles.

Georgia Miller, the postmaster and sole employee at the Marvel Post Office, said Marvel’s operation has been on the chopping block since last March. She called it a “tiny little post office” with about a hundred post-office boxes. The nearest post offices from Marvel is in either Durango or Hesperus. Durango is around 22 miles away and Hesperus is about 14.

Miller said she hadn’t heard anything further of plans to save or get rid of her branch.

Another Bennet amendment would create a community advocate to fight against rural post-office closures. The bipartisan amendment was co-sponsored with Roy Blunt, R – Mo., and would allow the advocate access to any data, documents and reports related to the potential closure of a rural office. The advocate would also be able to appeal the final decision on the closure to the Postal Regulatory Commission.

Rather than shutting rural post offices, Udall said the Postal Service needed to be reformed.

The final amendment Bennet sponsored allowed post offices to issue Social Security cards as well as hunting and fishing licenses. Bennet said the added duties would make rural post offices more profitable.

Udall said, “What we want to do is give the Postal Service the opportunity to think in a 21st century way that takes into account competitive forces like the Internet, like UPS and FedEx. There are a number of experts who believe if you unleash the Postal Service, they will find additional revenues to maintain the community.”

Kelcie Pegher is an intern for The Durango Herald and a student at American University in Washington, D.C. Reach her at herald@durangoherald.com.

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