U.S. Senate passes Franken legislation to help communities with postal matters

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Washington, D.C.  —The Senate today (Tuesday, April 24) passed U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s (D-Minn.) legislation that gives communities the opportunity to fight to prevent closure of their local post offices and processing centers. Sen. Franken’s amendment was incorporated into the Postal Reform Bill that is currently being debated on the Senate floor and likely to pass this evening.

“Local post offices ensure timely mail delivery, provide jobs, and are often the center of our communities,” said Sen. Franken. “My amendment gives communities the opportunity to fight the closure of their local post offices and processing centers and I’m glad it was incorporated into the postal reform bill.  This legislation could save jobs all over Minnesota and maintain the quality postal service we all depend on.”

Sen. Franken’s amendment to the postal reform bill gives the Postal Regulatory Commission the power to overturn scheduled post office and processing center closures when communities or individuals make a compelling case to keep the facility open.

Sen. Franken introduced the legislation after learning from the Postmaster General that five of Minnesota’s seven processing centers and 117 local post offices were scheduled to be closed.

Specifically, Sen. Franken’s amendment would:
• Allow the appeal of a proposed closing of a mail processing facility;
• Grant the Postal Regulatory Commission the authority to “reverse” a decision by the Postal Service to close a post office, station, branch or mail processing facility;
• Ensure that any proposed closure or consolidation is suspended until final disposition of the appeal; and
• Require the Postal Regulatory Commission to set aside any closing or consolidation that does not achieve substantial economic savings.

Sen. Franken has been fighting to prevent the closure of post offices and processing centers throughout Minnesota. In December, he joined a small group of his colleagues to successfully urge the Postmaster General to hold off on future closings until Congress could pass a postal reform plan.

After a meeting with Sen. Franken and his colleagues, the Postmaster General agreed to place a moratorium on closings until May 15th. Sen. Franken and his colleagues worked diligently with the committee responsible for postal reform to protect local post offices and maintain mail delivery standards, which would protect some processing centers from being closed.

The Postal Reform bill that Sen. Franken worked to improve will save jobs and maintain the mail service businesses and residents depend on by refunding money to the postal service that it overpaid to the federal retirement system. It will also reduce the requirement that the Postal Service prefund retiree healthcare benefits. No other agency or private company has this requirement.

Last week, Sen. Franken’s delivered a speech on the Senate floor on the importance of protecting local post offices and processing centers here, download video here, or read the full text below.

As Prepared for Delivery

Senator Al Franken:

Mr. President, I rise today to talk about the importance of the Postal Service to Minnesota and to urge my colleagues to make thoughtful changes to strengthen S. 1789.

The Postal Service has proposed a cost-cutting plan that would close or consolidate nearly 3,700 mostly-rural post offices.  This plan would eliminate thousands of jobs in communities across the country and would leave many residents and businesses without direct access to postal services.

In Minnesota, 117 post offices are on the closure list.  That includes the post office in Calumet, Minnesota, a town of 367 people in northeastern Minnesota.  I’ve heard from the mayor of Calumet, John Tuorila, about the hardship that closing the post office would have on his community.

He told me about disabled residents who can’t get a driver’s license.  And how important it is that they are able to walk to the post office.  He also told me about an elderly couple in the town.  The husband has Alzheimer’s, and he and his wife take a walk every day, hand-in-hand, to the post office.

When the Postal Service held a public meeting in Calumet to discuss the proposed post office closure, over 70 residents showed up.  That’s a lot of people for such a small town.

These are the stories I hear when I travel across Minnesota.  Especially in rural Minnesota, post offices are the center of communities.  They serve as a gathering place and source of information.  Individuals and businesses rely on the Postal Service to receive medications, paychecks, absentee ballots, equipment, and even livestock.  If the Postal Service’s closure plan is implemented, it will have a devastating impact on rural Minnesota.

The Postal Service has also proposed to close 250 processing facilities.  Five of Minnesota’s seven processing facilities are on the list.  Under the Postal Service’s plan, all of the mail processing activities currently taking place in Duluth, Bemidji, Mankato, Rochester, and Waite Park would be moved to the Twin Cities.

Mr. President, for everyone who hasn’t driven around Minnesota, let me explain what that means. When someone in Bemidji, Minnesota, sends a birthday card to her neighbor, or a local small business sends an invoice to a customer a few streets away, that letter will be sent more than 200 miles south to the Twin Cities to be processed before it’s sent 200 miles back north to Bemidji.

That just doesn’t make any sense.  During Minnesota winters, when roads are impassable, that is going to mean severe mail delays.  It is going to drive business away from these communities.

The processing centers in Rochester and Duluth are also on the list.  These are the third and fourth largest cities in Minnesota.  Duluth is over 150 miles from the Twin Cities.

Closing these processing centers will significantly impact local businesses and will drive business away from the Postal Service.  One important example is the Duluth News Tribune.  This one business distributes over two million pieces of mail annually through the postal service.  Last year, they paid the Postal Service well over $400,000 for these services.

If the Duluth processing center is closed, the Postal Service will no longer be able to guarantee overnight delivery of local newspapers.  The Duluth News Tribune is going to have to find a different way to deliver their papers.  That will cost both the business and the Postal Service a lot of money.

I’ve heard from hundreds of Minnesotans and met with postal workers, mayors, concerned community members, and businesses that rely on the Postal Service.  What they all agree on is that we need a strong, financial sound Postal Service.  They understand that tough choices need to be made and that some cuts are on the way.

But not like this.  Not by closing five of Minnesotan’s seven processing facilities and forcing the workers to move to the Twin Cities if they want any hope of keeping their jobs.  Not by closing nearly 3,700 post offices to save less than one percent of the budget.  Not by slowing down mail so much that it will basically render it useless for many businesses.

The Post Office is in the Constitution.  It has been around since the beginning of our country.  For centuries, universal service has been at the heart of the Postal Service’s mission.  No matter where you live—be it in Minneapolis or International Falls, Minnesota—you could count on the Postal Service delivering your mail.  The Postal Service gave you a connection to the outside world.  Somehow we have lost sight of that.

Senators Lieberman, Carper, Collins, and Scott Brown have put forward a bill to reform the Postal Service.  I want to thank them for all their important work moving this bill forward.

S. 1789 would refund overpayments that the Postal Service has made to the federal pension program.  It will also reduce the requirement that the Postal Service prefund retiree healthcare benefits.  I’m very supportive of both these provisions, which will save the Postal Service over $15 billion over the next two years.

However, I believe the bill can be strengthened to maintain delivery standards and better protect rural post offices.  I’ve been working with a group of my colleagues, led by Senator Sanders, to improve the bill.  I want to thank Senators Carper and Lieberman for working with us.

The manager’s amendment addresses some of our concerns.  Most importantly, it would require the Postal Service to retain regional overnight delivery standards.  This will protect many processing facilities.  And, importantly for Minnesota, it will likely keep the Duluth processing facility open.

But the substitute still doesn’t do enough to protect rural post offices.  I’ve introduced an amendment with my friends and colleagues Senators Tester and Levin that will give communities the opportunity to fight to prevent the closure of their local post offices and processing facilities.

Right now, the Postal Regulatory Commission can review post office closure decisions, but can only issue advisory options.  Our amendment would give the Commission authority to reverse post office and processing facility closure decisions.  That would guarantee that individuals and communities impacted by closures would have a real recourse.  I urge all my Senate colleagues to support our amendment.

We need to make thoughtful changes to S. 1789. And we need to act now.  Last December, I joined with a number of my Senate colleagues in pushing the Postmaster General for a five-month moratorium on postal closures.  The moratorium is now running out, and the Postal Service is not waiting.  On May 16, the Postal Service will close thousands of post offices and hundreds of processing centers.  We need to act now.

I yield the floor.


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