|The Postal Service
lost $8.5 billion in its last fiscal year, a lot of money even in today’s
upside down economy. It operates over 35,000 post offices and support facilities
and employs over a half-million Americans, despite cutting a third of its work
force in the last decade. Plus, almost taken for granted in the financial debate,
last year it delivered 170 billion pieces of mail.
In the next few weeks the government will begin closing nearly 2,500 post
offices. It will also give greater consideration to the possibility of halting
Every use of tax money is under intense scrutiny these days - from health
care, to education, to repairing highways and bridges. Technically the Postal
Service doesn't use tax dollars; however, it borrows from the Treasury, so it
is very much a part of the nation's financial headache.
One thing that separates the Postal Service from most other government services
is that it actually works properly. With basically the lowest first-class postage
rate of any nation on the globe, the U.S. Mail gets delivered on time - or, in
many cases faster than promised - with incredible consistency.
But there are other considerations to be reviewed with care before closing
any more post offices. The real value of a U.S. Post Office branch is often measured
in inverse proportion to the facility's balance sheet. Small offices in the most
rural corners of America are frequently the only places where citizens can be
in contact with their government.
Like the cop on the corner, whose job I'd also argue is worth preserving,
the mail carrier is for many Americans an anchor in a stormy world.
Perhaps it's logic of convenience to relate every domestic budget problem
to the expense of conducting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but here are the
facts: the entire annual deficit for the Postal Service is less than the cost
of three weeks of war.
Early in my career, before there was such a thing as e-mail, I did a story
for the New York News Sunday magazine about the smallest post offices in New
England; even back then several were threatened with closure. What I found, at
every stop, was that the smaller the office the more important it was to the
residents' sense of community.
One post office, no bigger than a medium-size closet, was run by a woman who
explained that on some days she handled no mail whatsoever. "Isn't that
a valid reason for closing you down?" I asked. "People here count
on me," she replied, "whether there's mail or not. Like the flag hanging
outside, I represent our country. People like knowing that."
That particular post office in northern Connecticut is long gone. But the
point is still valid, maybe more than ever.
President Obama has spoken wisely about using a scalpel for delicate cuts
in the nation's spending. Small post offices and the services they provide are
part of the fabric of America that should be trimmed with only the greatest care.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.