(September 3, 2014) BISMARCK — U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp accused the U.S. Postal Service on Tuesday of backtracking on its promise not to cut hours at 30 rural post offices in central and western North Dakota.
The Democrat started a “Fix My Mail” initiative in January to gather stories from North Dakotans about problems they had encountered with delayed mail delivery and poor service. She said she heard stories of how people hadn’t received prescriptions on time and got mail that was damaged.
She shared the stories with Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe in March, after which she said the Postal Service made a commitment — in person and in writing — to improve mail service and delivery throughout the state, including keeping more hours of operation at 30 rural post offices.
But information provided to the state’s congressional delegation Aug. 27 as part of an update from the Postal Service every two weeks indicated it now plans to reduce hours at 27 of the 30 post offices, Heitkamp said in a news release Tuesday.
Heitkamp launched a petition Tuesday on her official Senate website to pressure the Postal Service to reverse its decision.
“How can we trust anything the Postal Service says when it promises one thing and then does another?” she said.
John Friess, manager of corporate communications for the Postal Service’s western area, said he had no response to Heitkamp’s statement and was waiting to hear back from Postal Service headquarters on what prompted it.
Peter Nowacki, the Postal Service’s spokesman for North Dakota, responded to questions by referring to the agency’s “Post Plan” released in May 2012 that outlined its program for keeping open about 13,000 post offices nationwide by realigning retail window hours based on customer use and total revenues.
Since the program was announced, 9,166 post offices have had retail operating hours adjusted, including 157 offices in North Dakota since January 2013, according to Nowacki. The timeline for completing the process by this month has been extended to early January 2015.
The 27 post offices that would see reduced hours are Alexander, Berthold, Burlington, Drake, Elgin, Fortuna, Golden Valley, Hague, Halliday, Hazelton, Lignite, Makoti, Maxbass, McGregor, Newburg, Ray, Rhame, Ross, Selfridge, Stanton, Sterling, South Heart, Strasburg, Tolley, Turtle Lake, Voltaire and Zeeland. The three post offices that wouldn’t see reductions are Parshall, Underwood and Westhope.
The Postal Service reported a $2 billion loss last quarter, compared with a $740 million loss in the second quarter of last year. The agency has recorded a loss in 21 of the last 23 quarters.