Keeping mail service dependent on feedback
UPDATED: Story has been updated to clarify several comments by Sen. Al Franken.
BEMIDJI - Sen. Al Franken is optimistic that the Postal Reform Bill should pass the House, which could pave the way to keep the Bemidji processing center to open and ensuring overnight delivery for local mail.
"I don't have a crystal ball but I do know that many of the Republicans in the House represent rural areas so they have a very big interest in not allowing rural post offices to close," Franken said Thursday during a conference call with reporters.
"I think they might be more in line with the Senate bill so I do have some optimism there."
On Wednesday, Postal Reform legislation, including an amendment added by Franken, passed the Senate to allow communities to fight proposed closures of Postal Service offices and processing centers. The bill gives the Postal Regulatory Commission the right to overturn scheduled post office closures if a compelling case is presented.
The final bill also includes changes to maintain regional overnight delivery, which in turn could keep processing plants in Bemidji, Duluth, Mankato, Rochester and Waite Park open.
Franken said an amendment that would put a moratorium on rural post office closings for two years passed, which may delay the May 15 closing regional offices including offices in Lake George, Hines, Squaw Lake, Lengby, Naytahwaush and Ponsford.
Franken said that in order for offices to be saved, communities have to make a compelling case to the Postal Regulatory Commission or prove there is no substantial economic savings gained by closing an office. The commission can be found online at www.prc.gov, by mail at 901 New York Ave. NW Suite 200, Washington, D.C., or by phone at (202) 789-6800.
"They have an avenue of redress, which is important," Franken said. "Otherwise there would have been no place to go."
Franken said that some arguments he could see making compelling cases include creating a model to keep the office open and cutting hours if needed, arguing the entrepreneurial case for the offices or the need for prescription drug delivers.
"All the things that I have actually heard about why not to close rural post offices, which is how important they are to the community, how important they are as the center for the community and how difficult it can become for elderly to have access to a post office," Franken said.
Franken has been fighting for a Postal Reform bill since December, when the Postal Service announced five of the state's seven processing facilities and 117 post offices would close.
"We had this May 15 deadline so it was critical that the Senate acted and acted now," Franken said. "Without congressional action the post office closures and processing centers across the country closing, we would run the very risk of the Postal Service running out of money to pay its employees."
The bill would save jobs and maintain mail services that businesses depend on. It will also save the postal service over $15 billion a year by refunding overpayments to the federal retirement system and reducing retiree health benefits pre-payments.
Franken said he hopes the bill will get through the House quickly so something can be done before the May 15 deadline.
"I have hope in the House because I do think that Republicans tend to represent rural areas more than democrats so I think that actually this shouldn't be a partisan issue," Franken said.
United State Postal Service Northland District Spokesperson Pete Nowacki said he could not comment on the specifics of the bill until it is finalized but he said he is encouraged to see the Senate taking action to fight for public enterprise.