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Nov
14

Binding the Nation Together – as long as it’s profitable….

By

The title of the piece that caught my eye last week is “Rural Post Office closures will hurt Natives, elderly and the poor.” by Winona LaDuke in The Circle – Native American News and Arts. This is a Minneapolis-based newspaper serving the Native American population.

The author points out that a number of post offices in remote areas of Minnesota are scheduled for closure. The author gets the reason wrong – citing “federal budget cuts”, but she puts forth reasons for keeping these rural post offices open that go deep into a subject that seems absent from the discussion in Washington: “One might ask…if the USPS is a business or a service in this country, and question the long term costs of the closure.”

Is the USPS still tasked with “binding the nation together”? Certainly from Ms.LaDuke’s experience and reporting, in the Native American community there is a very pressing need for it to do just that. Unfortunately, the costs of discontinuing critical postal delivery services will be severe, and only partially “measurable”. And if it can’t be measured, Congress doesn’t want to hear about it.

Some of the consequences:

  • a loss of 4,000 jobs, not a small matter in a community with few businesses or opportunities.
  • the Internet is not a common tool among Native Americans, at only about 10% penetration (rural population, scattered, and poor – not a business opportunity); they need the mail.
  • a higher proportion of people without drivers’ licenses or vehicles – they can’t drive 10 miles to another town for their mail.
  • a highly mobile employed population which migrates between cities and the reservation, and need a permanent postal address for both legal and employment purposes.
  • Address system maintenance for voting privileges, communication with government agencies, including social services and the justice system.

Let’s be clear. We are talking about a very poor community that needs the USPS as no other community does: “ Let’s start with the paperwork of being poor. Simply stated, it is a lot of work or “white paper” to be poor in this country. Just attempting to get a job, and making sure one is able to respond to prospective employers, requires a valid postal address. Voting requires a valid postal address, and people need to correspond with agencies, whether social services, justice department or energy assistance. Losing those post offices will be a burden to people who have no other way then the postal service to conduct their business. People cannot drive elsewhere for mail, and more mail will not be delivered.” 

It should be easy for Congress to declare that the taxpayers should support the USPS in situations such as these. The social good to be derived is all too clear. And if it amounts to even $1 billion a year I would be astounded. After all, as Ms. LaDuke points out: “If the Bank of Scotland could get $84 billion in a federal bail out in 2008 (Bank of America got a slim $91.4 billion) it would seem that the USPS might deserve more of a break. The rural post office closures will save $ l billion…Layoffs in the largely rural post office closures will result in around 4000 jobs lost.”

In Washington, this social cost is being ignored.

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