Rosebud School students know the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, which is why the U.S. Postal Service’s mail route to this tiny Eastern Montana town is a head-scratcher.
”The mail goes by us like two times before it gets here,” said Lori Reierson, who works in the school’s main office.
Letters from the sorting center in Billings are trucked past Rosebud to Miles City, then trucked by again from Miles City to Forsyth, before making it to the school.
The mail has taken this spaghetti noodle route since 2011, when the debt-ridden U.S. Postal Service began cutting sorting centers and limiting local post office hours to four on weekdays and none on Saturdays.
USPS has closed processing centers in Butte, Havre, Helena, Kalispell, Miles City and Wolf Point since 2011. More mail now moves through processing centers like the one in Billings.
Observers say improvements aren’t on a fast track with President Donald Trump. Postal service reform hasn’t been a priority. Congressional leaders are forecasting postal reform in the next two years.Still, mail-dependent businesses like small newspapers are lobbying for reform. Jim Rickman, CEO of the Montana Newspaper Association, said he’s writing congressional letters. Montana’s U.S. Sens. Steve Daines, a Republican, Jon Tester, a Democrat, are both members of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which handles U.S. Postal Service matters.
“I just recently penned a letter to Daines’s office as an invitation for the National Newspaper Association to visit with him about how bad delivery service is for newspapers, especially community newspapers,” Rickman said. “So many local newspapers have had to basically work around this at a much higher expense.”
Local first-class mail has a gone from two-day delivery to three-day. That schedule doesn’t include Sundays and holidays. Mail that straddles those dates can take four days for delivery.
Second-class postage takes longer. Rickman said postal facilities along the processing route can sit on mail for up to three days if necessary. Multiple delays can keep a subscriber out of state from receiving a community newspaper for 14 days.