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Protect Alaska's mail system: Postal Service faces unneeded May 15 deadline

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Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2012 12:01 am | Updated: 1:50 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

Community perspective

If Congress doesn’t do something to fix the U.S. Postal Service’s finances by May 15, the service plans to close 3,600 post offices, consolidate 223 mail processing centers, lay off 100,000 workers, eliminate overnight delivery of first class mail and periodicals, change two-day delivery to three days and end six-day service. These closures, consolidation, layoffs and service changes will create massive disruption for customers, small businesses, our communities and our economy, especially in Alaska.

Why is this happening? The Postal Service is facing a financial “crisis,” but not for the reasons people may think. In December 2006, Congress passed a law that requires the Postal Service to “pre-fund” 75 years worth of “future” retiree health benefits over a 10-year period. Yes, 75 years worth, and most of these people aren’t even born yet, much less working for the Postal Service. No other government agency or private business is required to bear such a burden, which drains $5.5 billion annually from the Postal Service revenue.

Congress created this problem, and Congress can fix it.

As I write this letter, the Senate is debating the future of the Postal Service. It’s discussing Senate Bill 1789, which gives the service short-term fixes for the problems we face. The bill as it is written is unacceptable; it would give the service some short-term financial relief but would inflict long-term damage to the nation’s mail system.

There must be amendments to this bill before it is passed. To truly preserve the Postal Service, the amendment must contain the following:

• Maintain current service standards. This is crucial, because the Postal Service is planning to degrade delivery standards in order to eliminate half of all mail processing facilities. This would slow down the mail coming to Alaska, which already takes longer than anywhere else in the Lower 48.

• Allow the Postal Service to recover overpayments it made to its retiree pension funds.

• Adequately address the requirement that forces the service to pre-fund retiree health benefits.

• Establish new ways to generate revenue, such as providing notary services, issuing licenses, contracting with state and local agencies to provide services and offering services that mail systems in many other countries provide, such as digital service.

• Prevent the closing of small post offices by giving the Postal Regulatory Commission binding authority to prevent closures based on the effect on the community and employees.

• Protect six-day delivery.

All of these issues are extremely important to all postal employees and our customers; this is especially important to Alaska. This state depends more on the Postal Service than any other state. Our villages receive the majority of their supplies, mail, groceries and medicines through the mail. If we do not do something to prevent it, all small offices could be closed regardless of the needs of the communities. This would be devastating to Alaska.

Two post offices in the Fairbanks area, Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base, are on the closure list, and I have been fighting hard along with Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young to keep these offices open. The Postal Service will announce the final outcome on May 15, and it is quite possible they will close these offices.

Please join with the employees of the USPS across the United States and let your senators and congressmen know that America and Alaska depend on the Postal Service.

Ever wonder what the Postal Service costs taxpayers? Not a single cent. The Postal Service receives no tax dollars. The Postal Service relies completely on the sale of postage, products and services to fund all operations.

Please help us and your communities save the Postal Service. Contact your senators and representatives at the Capitol switchboard in Washington, D.C., 202-224-3121, and tell them to fix the Postal Service without destroying service or eliminating 100,000 jobs.

Denise Hernandez Young of Fairbanks is president of the Alaska Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO.

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