Facing a deficit of more than $8 billion, no one denies the U.S. Postal Service needs to make some major adjustments and create efficiencies in the way it delivers services to customers.

Facing a deficit of more than $8 billion, no one denies the U.S. Postal Service needs to make some major adjustments and create efficiencies in the way it delivers services to customers.

As a result, branches of the Postal Service are facing closure across the country.

A post office, in many ways, represents the heart of neighborhoods and villages. When it faces an uncertain fate, it’s a blow to the stature and psyche of the community.

On July 26, the U.S. Postal Service released a review list of 3,653 post offices nationwide that could be on the chopping block. That’s about 1 in 10 post office branches nationwide. With fewer customers using “snail mail” and instead turning to the Internet for correspondence and paying bills, the post office has to find ways to cut $12 million in costs.  

During the review process, expected to be completed by the fall, the U.S. Postal Service will examine the workload of each branch. A closure would not necessarily mean customers would have to travel across town for postal services. Under the new “Village Post Office” model, when there are branches less than two miles apart and it is determined that a branch has a light workload, availability of some services — mainly stamps and fixed-rate mailing services — would be shifted from the traditional post office to other businesses, such as stores, pharmacies and gas stations. The area’s ZIP code would remain the same.

The Postal Service would contract with these businesses, and there would be some benefits to customers, like expanded hours, including weekends. The arrangement could also benefit local businesses by contracting with the Postal Service and increasing customer traffic.

Numerous stores already sell stamps. More folks are also turning to the Internet to purchase postal services or arranging for pick-up of items. The new model may be the wave of the future for smaller post office branches.

It’s hard to argue the economics forcing the review. The Postal Service is targeting branches that average less than $50 per day in sales, have low foot traffic and where staff members serve customers for less than two hours of a full workday. However, the closure list has not been finalized, and not every post office under review will be closed. Meanwhile, customers and community leaders have an opportunity to share their concerns with the Postal Regulatory Commission.

In both urban and rural areas of the country, many of the potential closures seem to disproportionately affect poor communities and people without transportation to nearby branches and without the means to access postal services via the Internet. That’s why it is important for the postal customers and public officials representing these communities to make their voices heard.

Officials are required to consider community input as they determine the actual closures. Residents and businesses that rely on one of the local post office branches and do not want to see them close should organize with other customers and share their concerns with the Postal Regulatory Commission, which will issue an advisory opinion on the plan.

However, ironically, the commission is only accepting comments via the Internet, not via the U.S. Postal Service.

How to voice your concerns:

To submit comments for or against the closures, visit www.prc.gov and click the “contact PRC” tab to access an online customer service form. Select the subject "current proceeding before the commission" and include your name and address. To participate more formally in the process and to file documents to be included in the online public record, interested parties may click the “Filing Online” tab and follow the appropriate instructions. The Postal Service may not implement any closures until Oct. 28, 90 days after the request was filed. The docket number is N2011-1.

-- Herald News Editorial Board (Mass.)