By NEMS Daily Journal
The U.S. Postal Service announced this week it has canceled plans to close nearly 3,850 mostly rural post offices nationwide because of community and congressional pressure, but it said many of those facilities face drastically reduced service hours and minimal staffing.
Several Northeast Mississippi post offices had been on the closure list; dozens in the region are on an hours reduction list.
The cancellation of the closures nationwide is backed by many in Congress, including Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, who joined 43 colleagues in urging a moratorium on the closures.
Dozens were on the original hit list in Mississippi. Tupelo’s mail processing center had been slated for closure and movement to Grenada, but an earlier moratorium spared that move.
“The Senate recently passed a bipartisan bill that would help the postal service set standards on closing post offices,” said Wicker, in a statement. “It is premature to close these post offices …”
Last fall, the Postal Service identified 61 mostly rural post offices in Mississippi for possible closure and proposed consolidating mail distribution and processing centers in Tupelo, Grenada, Hattiesburg and Gulfport.
On a broader measure, about 80 percent of the 3,830 post offices under consideration nationwide are in sparsely populated rural areas where poverty rates are higher and Internet service is less ubiquitous and broadband service is rare. Reuters news reports also note that UPS and FedEx charge more for delivery in some of the ZIP codes where post offices were scheduled to be shuttered.
At Postal Service headquarters, officials say they did not consider Internet accessibility when determining which offices to shutter, reports stated.
The new plan calls for reduced hours and contract employees rather than postmasters in many locations.
“There’s still a real digital divide between rural and urban America,” said Ed Luttrell, president of the National Grange, which represents rural America. “You look at rural folks, they tend to rely much more heavily on the Postal Service for delivery of a wide variety of necessities than urban people.”
His descriptive fits much of rural Northeast Mississippi.
“The postmaster general doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on in rural America, and it shows,” said U.S. Sen, Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, in a published report.
Post offices, despite the digital age’s general dominance, remain essential conveyors of information and commerce in many parts of the United States.
Drastic cutbacks to remain open are better than closure.