Our Post Offices on the Senate Floor!

This Tuesday Senator Merkley took the Senate floor with large posters of the Tiller and Juntura post offices and spoke to the crucial service these and other rural post offices provide, directly quoting testimony from organizers of Occupy Our Post Offices.  Watch the video here! 

On February 22, over 1,600 petition collected by Occupy Our Post Offices were delivered by delegations of rural human dignity group leaders, postal workers, and retired postmasters to each of Oregon’s federal legislators.  Tiller’s retired postmaster Diana Farris delivered those petition signatures along her own letter describing the dire economic conditions in her community and emphasizing the lack of accessibility to communication services like internet and cell service.  Diana’s letter, and our petitions, were passed from DeFazio’s Roseburg office to Sen. Merkley who read parts of the letter on the Senate floor.  Read more of Diana’s stories and what it means to be a rural postmaster below.  Also included below is the front-page Oregonian story featuring Diana and the community of Tiller!

The cover letter that joined every petition delivery concluded with: “We call on you to fix the USPS’ manufactured financial crisis and to publicly represent the dozens of rural communities and thousands of rural Oregonians who are at risk of losing their identity.

Our victories bear repeating: we started with 41 rural Oregon post offices up for closure in mid-December.  On December 19, 23 communities Occupied their Post Offices, rallying in support of rural community infrastructure and the employment the postal service provides.  All 41 post offices are still open. 21 post offices have been taken off of the closure list.  The 20 communities still at risk of losing their post offices are united despite partisan, economic, and social divides.  The entire state is rallied around saving these rural post offices and the four mail processing plants also up for closure.

Our message from the hearts of rural towns across Oregon was heard, and not just by Merkley.  Senator Wyden just introduced legislation that extends the moratorium on post office and mail processing plant closures until after the election. The closure of rural post offices and the four mail processing centers compels us to ask how the democratic process, vote-by-mail, will be impacted for many of Oregon’s smallest communities?  We are glad to hear that Wyden is as concerned as rural post office patrons are by this.

Let’s keep the pressure on now that we know they are listening to us!  We want Congress to fix the USPS’ financial crisis they created in 2006, we want a moratorium extension until the crisis is fixed, and we want every rural post office to stay open!  Call your Senators and Representative today!  Learn more about this manufactured financial crisis here.

Want to help shape statewide strategy around rural post offices?  Join leaders, organizers, and activists from across the state at the Rural Caucus & Strategy Session on May 12th!  It is not too late to sign up.  Register now!





Diana Farris, Retired Tiller Postmaster

One of the retired Postmasters that led a petition delivery delegation was a 71 year old great-grandmother of 13, dedicated member of the community service group at her church, and retired Postmaster for the Tiller Post Office.  ROP first talked with Diana in December when we coordinated Occupy Our Post Offices.  She was organizing a rally in Tiller before ROP contacted her and she was thrilled to hear that we were connecting the dots to Occupy.  She felt it was natural to organize her community to fight the closure of their post office – she knows firsthand how vital the post office is to community health.

Diana told story after story about how important her role as a Postmaster was to the community of Tiller.  She helped residents balance their checkbooks, file their taxes, and fill out money orders to pay their bills.  When folks had questions about what was happening in town, they would call her at the post office.  One man called her, sounding disoriented.  Diana closed the post office and drove to his house to find that he had fallen and was bleeding to death.  She drove him to the hospital because the ambulance would take 2.5 hours to get to Tiller.  Diana saved his life.

This is just one of the many lives Diana saved thanks to her role in Tiller.  If she noticed mail piling up, she would visit homes to make sure everything was okay.  It is this consideration and care that led Diana to save several lives of Tiller residents who lived alone and had suffered strokes and aneurisms.

This is just one of many stories we are hearing from retired postmasters.  An Eastern Oregon retired postmaster shared that four times in his career as postmaster people came in with snakebites and he got them a helicopter air lift out to hospitals.   Another time he was asked to do the honors and spread the ashes of a resident into the river since he was one of the few people that knew him very well in life.  In his own words, “the role of a postmaster is so much more than what is in your job description.”

Plan to close Oregon post offices triggers ‘return to sender’ response in Congress

Monday, March 26, 2012, 9:09 PM

WASHINGTON — Tiller, an unincorporated Oregon community pressed against the western boundary of the Umpqua National Forest, is not the first place that comes to mind when discussing an impending throw-down in Congress.

Nor for that matter is Cascadia, Juntura or Helix, or any of 16 other difficult to find and easy-to-overlook Oregon towns.

Yet those communities and thousands like them across the nation have emerged as the battleground over the future of the U.S. Postal Service. In a last-gasp effort to head off annual losses that could hit $18.5 billion by 2015, the Postal Service has proposed closing post offices in all those communities and 3,700 more nationwide as a way to save money, consolidate services and respond to competitive pressures from private rivals. It also would close 252 mail processing centers, including four in Oregon.

The drastic step is necessary, postal managers say, to correct a flawed business model that no longer works in the digital age and threatens to bankrupt the nation’s far-flung mail service.

So doors must close, jobs must be lost and people must drive further to conduct business with the U.S. mail. In Oregon, the plan calls for 20 rural post offices to close as well as processing centers in Salem, Bend, Eugene and Pendleton.

To say it’s unpopular in Congress is an understatement.

“They have absolutely no economic analysis. It’s just about their budget, not about what’s smart for the economy,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., noting like other critics that rural communities would be especially hard hit and that having a local post office is essential for a healthy local economy.

Postal officials concede there are no easy choices. But, they say, survival is at stake.

“The plan we have developed requires a combination of aggressive cost reduction, rethinking the way we manage our health care costs and comprehensive legislation to reform the business model of the Postal Service,” Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in February. “If provided the flexibility to quickly implement this plan, we can return to profitability and better serve the American public. If not, we risk becoming a significant burden to the American taxpayer.”

That’s how Tiller and the other Oregon facilities ended up on a list nobody outside the U.S. Postal Service wants to be on. It’s easy to see why. Tiller is a community of perhaps 300 people (nobody knows for sure) which means its post office has neither a lot of mail volume nor revenue.

The other offices are also small, serving mostly rural areas. The processing centers are underutilized, officials say, and

consolidating them will save money without affecting service. Merkley disagrees. “It would essentially mean the end of overnight delivery of first class mail,” Merkley’s spokeswoman Julie Edwards said.

U.S. postal officials originally planned to move early this year but pulled back in the face of blistering criticism in Congress and beyond.

“When they’re sitting in Washington, D.C., they have no idea what rural America looks like,” said Diana Farris, a 73-year-old retiree who was postmaster at the Tiller facility for 20 years. “Cut operating hours, she says. Reduce salaries and bonuses for senior officials or even eliminate Saturday service, Farris says. Anything short of closing.

“In Tiller there are a lot of people who don’t have electricity. Cellphone service can be nonexistent and getting a fast

Internet connection is hard if you can get one at all,” she says, batting down suggestions that old-fashioned mail can be replaced with modern technology.

Lost too, she says, will be a community anchor. “They come to the post office and when they see each other it’s like old home week,” Farris said. “The post office has always been a big deal in rural communities.”

Postal officials have felt the pressure. And in response, they have promised to delay any action until May 15 to give time for Congress to consider legislation. That could happen as early as this week.

There are multiple bills, including one from Merkley that would prohibit the closing of any post office that is more than 10 miles from the next closest facility.

“If you take the number of hours of wasted economic potential, it’s far more logical to have the post office open,” Merkley said in an interview.

“Realize folks may drive now to get to their current post office; they may drive 10 or 15 miles. Then to drive another 30 or 40 miles to get to the next post office is just a complete waste of gasoline and time and resources,” he said.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is prepared to offer an amendment to delay any closings until after the presidential election in November out of concerns that closures could affect Oregon’s all-mail balloting. In the House, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., has introduced the companion to
Merkley’s bill as well as a second measure that he says would stabilize the service’s finances without widespread closures.

Merkley says his bill would allow the Postal Service to stabilize it’s finances without widespread closures. That would preserve an important social and cultural anchor for small towns.

“In these small towns people depend upon them to get their medicines, they depend on them to get their orders for their small businesses, ship their orders and for communication among the town itself. It’s a hub,” Merkley said. “It’s going to devastate these small towns when you eliminate the post office. And it will do greater damage to the economy.

Merkley says there are savings that can be found without serious disruptions to service. Beyond that, he says reliable and universal postal service is a crucial government function that must be protected even if the economics don’t always add up.

“This is an example of something we do collectively because it is smart to do it together,” he said. “… This network provides an overall benefit to creating an integrated economy. Just as it was essential to our communities when the Constitution was written, it’s still essential today,” he said.

DeFazio shares that assessment but goes further, charging the Postal Service with essentially cooking the books to justify closing facilities.

“These closures are based on questionable data that the USPS admits doesn’t address long-term solvency,” DeFazio said. “Time and again the postmaster general has failed to listen to the concerns of hundreds of thousands of individuals and small businesses that rely on USPS. He has also ignored alternative solutions offered by Congress to avoid such drastic measures.”

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