After 200 years of daily deliveries, the United States Postal Service has fallen on tough times.
The full impact of the organization’s difficulties has yet to reach the Lower Valley, but slower delivery times are looming as further cuts are made.
United States Postal Service profits have been declining for more than a decade, mostly due to internet communications taking the place of First-Class Mail, once the main source of postal income.
Unique in the world of business and government, the United State Postal Service is funded entirely by its own profits and not through taxes, yet is required to serve all customers in the country, regardless of location.
In addition, the Postal Service is overseen by the U.S. Congress, which in 2006 required the organization to pre-fund all its retirement obligations within 10 years. For the past three years the Postal Service has been unable to meet the $5.5 billion annual payments to the retirement fund, defaulting instead.
Due to the organization’s shaky financial situation, the Postmaster General has made cuts to service, starting with the 2012 closing of 150 out of nearly 500 mail processing plants across the country.
Though there were talks of closing the mail processing center in Yakima, it avoided that fate. According to Sunnyside Postmaster Isidro Rodriguez, there are no plans to do so now following the recent closure of the Pasco center.
Rodriguez says mail from Grandview and Sunnyside and points west are all processed in Yakima, while Prosser and points east are now served by the Spokane center.
Rodriguez, who was hired as interim postmaster last June before being named to the post on a permanent basis last fall, says the Sunnyside Post Office is feeling impacts of other cutbacks.
With the Outlook Post Office not having a postmaster, a postal worker from Sunnyside has been filling in at that post.
Besides an Outlook route, Sunnyside also has four other rural routes.
“We have a skeleton crew right now,” Rodriguez says. “We’re trying to manage our hours.”
Because of stretching to help cover Outlook, the Sunnyside Post Office is looking to hire two part-time workers – one for mail distribution and to be a carrier.
Grandview Postmaster Steve Barrientes said he doesn’t anticipate any layoffs with the changes being made this year.
“There is a lot of shuffling underway to prevent layoffs in the region,” he said.
Postal service in Grandview is not being impacted by the closures of processing facilities, but Prosser, Barrientes said, has been impacted by the closure of the Pasco processing plant.
For Grandview postal service patrons, Barrientes says there is nothing to worry about. Regarding slower first-class and periodical mailings, Barrientes said, “Grandview customers will continue to receive their mail as they have been.”
But changes are coming. The organization is currently bleeding money, a situation that would not be fixed even if the retirement pre-funding requirements were removed. As a result of cuts to staff, service has slowed down on a lot of rural routes, and the Postal Service itself has relaxed the standards for First-Class Mail.
According to the United States Postal Service, standards were changed this month, affecting roughly 14 billion pieces of the total volume of mail, about 9 percent, and up to 16 percent of First-Class Mail. The average delivery time for mail went from 1.8 days to 2.1 days, which means an extra day for customers on rural routes or who do not live near a processing plant.
Changes in rural delivery are a major concern for U.S. Postal Service customers like Brenda Tatum-Carlson of Granger, who relies on the daily delivery at her home.
“We order our prescriptions on-line,” said Tatum-Carlson, “but depend on the post office to get items to our house.”
If, in the future, the U.S. Postal Service was to decide to close either the Granger or Zillah offices, due to budget constraints, Tatum-Carlson said she would be forced to drive 20-miles to pick up her mail and medications in Toppenish. “It would be a really bad situation for me,” she added.
Fewer days of mail delivery could prove a real challenge for area senior citizens, according to Gloria Alexander, president of the Sunnyside Senior Citizen Group.
Her concern is for those senior citizens who are too afraid to use computers for on-line banking and bill paying.
“Many of us don’t ‘do’ computers. So not getting regular delivery of our mail would prove to be a real hardship,” said Alexander.
A reduction in daily and Saturday home delivery would cause problems for other seniors with disabilities and who actually depend on the mailman for daily contact. For example, Cherry Fairbanks Morse said her mailman often delivers packages right to the door.
“He knows I have a disability and my husband is ill,” she explained. “Sometimes if he doesn’t see any movement at our house, he rings the doorbell just to check on us,” Fairbanks Morse said.
“I don’t think the U.S. Postal Service cares about things like that, but I would really miss my daily service if it were curtailed.”
Fairbanks Morse said having to travel downtown to pick up her mail would be an extreme hardship. “I wouldn’t be able to go every day,” she added.
Daily rural mail delivery of items such as the local daily newspaper would also be a hardship for rural mail customers, according to Yolanda Bickett of Sunnyside.
“My neighbor gets the paper in the mail a day late already,” Bickett said. “She gets all her items through the mail, including her meds. It would be an issue for her if rural delivery was cut. And for my family as well, because she shares the newspaper with us.”
The Postal Service has been discussing the possibility of closing more processing plants and reducing its staff even further to save costs. In addition, other options, such as cutting Saturday service, are on the table.
In the meantime, the Postal Service is looking at a potential rate increase this year, for almost every service except First-Class letters. Those will remain at 49 cents even if the rate increase goes through.
Source : http://www.dailysunnews.com