In response to the United States Postal Service’s threat to close rural post offices in communities hardest hit by the economic crisis, 17 Oregon communities are Occupying their Post Offices on Monday. Carrying Christmas cards, cookies and gifts of appreciation to their postal workers, local Occupiers will raise awareness about the impending closures and collect petition signatures asking Congress to reform laws that have caused the unnecessary funding crisis within the Postal Service.
The statewide day of action was initiated by the rural communities of Swisshome and Deadwood after the Postal Administration notified them that their post offices were scheduled for closure. Residents submitted a petition to the Postmaster General with 350 signatures – out of a combined population of 500 – but still found their post office on the closure list. Out of options, Swisshome and Deadwood contacted the Rural Organizing Scappoose, OR project and quickly joined with other groups concerned about the impacts of closures in their communities.
“Deadwood won’t exist in ten years without a post office,” said Leslie Benscoter, retired schoolteacher and resident of Deadwood. “That’s why I am an Occupier. I Occupy 97430.”
In October, the United States Postal Service (USPS) proposed the closure of over 3,000 post offices nationwide, including 41 rural post offices in Oregon, as a means of addressing their financial crisis. The financial crisis stems from the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act passed by Congress in 2006 that forces the USPS to prefund employee benefits at $5.5 billion annually.
“The funding woes at the Postal Service are largely due to a poisonous bill from Congress,” said Bart Bolger, a rural letter carrier in Philomath. “There is a simple way to fix this without cutting jobs and service to our customers: undo the requirement to prefund benefits for 75 years. This is what is crippling the Postal Service financially.”
“Rural and frontier Oregon is at risk of losing crucial community infrastructure where it is needed most,” said Cara Shufelt, Director of the Rural Organizing Project. “Closing these post offices is completely unnecessary. We need legislation that keeps our post offices open and addresses the requirement to excessively prefund benefits. The Postal Service has overfunded retirement by over $50 billion dollars. Without this requirement they would be easily financially stable.”
The USPS announced a 5-month moratorium on post office closures this week after growing pressure from Congress, including a letter calling for the moratorium that was signed by Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden.