USPS delays post office closures

Alaska post offices slated to close have been given a five-month reprieve, including Douglas.

The U.S. Postal Service yesterday (Tuesday) announced the moratorium. But Ernie Swanson, USPS spokesman for Washington state and Alaska, says the post offices on the closure or consolidation list are not yet out of the woods.

“It gives them a reprieve for a while, but it doesn’t mean we’re not going to proceed with our studies on those projects and be ready to make a decision probably by the time the five-month period is over,” he says.

The moratorium expires on May 15th. Swanson says it’s prompted by congressional debates on postal service legislation.

Alaska U.S. Senator Mark Begich is among the senators taking credit for the decision. They met yesterday with U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Thurgood Marshall, Jr. to encourage the delay.

Both Begich and U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski have been educating postal authorities about the uniqueness of the postal service in Alaska; earlier this fall, 31 rural post offices were taken off the closure list.

Five remain: Douglas, the Anchorage Postal Store, and postal stations at Elmendorf and Eielson Air Force bases, and Fort Wainwright.

The financially strapped USPS in September proposed closing 3,700 postal stations across the country, due to its growing debt. Several bills to help the agency are now before Congress. The postal service can’t lobby Congress, and Swanson says none of the bills resolve the issues “including the prefunding of health benefits that costs us over 5-billion dollars a year. None of the proposed legislation that I’m aware of addresses all the legislation that we’d like to see done.”

Congress started requiring prepayment of postal service employee benefits in 2006. The payments, as well as declining business, competition from other delivery services, and the Internet, are factors in about a $10-billion loss for the fiscal year that ended in October.

“We didn’t make our payment at the end of the fiscal year, because we simply didn’t have the money,” Swanson says. “Congress gave us one extension into November and now there’s another extension that expires this weekend…and we don’t have the money. We’re hoping Congress does something to give us some relief.”

The Postal Service receives no tax dollars; rather, operations rely on the sale of postage, products and services.