WASHINGTON — Members of Kentucky's congressional delegation are speaking carefully as they monitor the fallout from the U.S. Postal Service's proposal to shift Lexington's mail-processing operations to Louisville or Knoxville and the planned closing of numerous rural post offices in the state.
The financially beleaguered U.S. Postal Service plans to close 3,700 post offices nationwide in an attempt to cut costs in an era of declining mail volume and a lingering economic downturn. Lexington is one of 250 processing centers nationwide, and one of seven in Kentucky, that are being studied for possible consolidation. The post office closings have residents in rural communities and those near postal hubs, including Lexington, crying foul, and the lawmakers who represent those communities are taking notice.
"The United States Postal Service provides many Central Kentuckians with good jobs. I realize the Postal Service has operating concerns, but it delivers a crucial and valuable service to our region," said Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles.
Scores of postal workers and customers turned out Monday night to voice their opposition to a proposal to shift Lexington's mail-processing operations to Louisville or Knoxville. About 300 workers would be affected if the proposal to shut down operations at the Nandino Boulevard postal processing center is implemented.
The post office has said that moving the operations out of Lexington would create more jobs in Louisville and Knoxville, but 103 positions would be eliminated entirely. The change also would mean slower delivery.
This would deeply affect residents in rural segments of the district of Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset. Over the past year, Rogers, who is chairman of the House Appropriations committee, has met and spoken regularly with Postal Service officials, local employees and constituents who rely on those post offices.
"Rural post offices and our hardworking postal employees are a lifeline for many of the families and seniors in my district," Rogers said in September shortly after offering legislation to temporarily defer a $5.5 billion retiree health benefits liability pre-funding payment.
A delay in that mandatory payment would ensure the continuation of mail service in the short term as Congress continues to discuss long-term solutions for the viability of the Postal Service, Rogers said.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, in a speech delivered last month at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., urged Congress to consider postal-reform legislation. Donahoe argued for using what he sees as a more flexible business model. The Postal Service is an independent government agency, but it does not rely directly on taxpayer dollars.
The Postal Service said it is seeking changes in the law that would provide it with the authority to determine delivery frequency, develop and price products quickly, control health care and retirement costs, rapidly realign mail-processing, delivery and retail networks, operate under a streamlined governance model, and leverage its work force with greater flexibility.
Postal-reform bills in the House and Senate "have elements that delay tough decisions and impose greater constraints on our business model," Donahoe said. "Taken as they are, they do not come close to enabling cost reductions of $20 billion by 2015 — which they must do for the Postal Service to return to profitability."
Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell said he's closely monitoring the situation back home. Earlier this year, McConnell met with Donahoe to discuss the challenges faced by the Postal Service and the effect that post office closings and consolidations in Kentucky could have on communities, McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer said.