By HOPE YEN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The financially struggling U.S. Postal Service sought Wednesday to tamp down concern over wide-scale cuts, revealing it will seek to keep thousands of rural post offices open with shorter hours.
At a news briefing, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the mail agency was backing off its plan to close up to 3,700 low-revenue post offices sometime after May 15. Citing strong community opposition, Donahoe said the agency will now whittle down full-time staff but maintain a part-time post office presence in rural areas, with access to retail lobbies and post office boxes.
Under the emerging strategy, no post office would be closed. But more than 13,000 rural mail facilities could see reduced operations of between two and six hours.
The Postal Service intends to seek regulatory approval and get community input, a process that could take several months. The new strategy would then be implemented over two years and completed in September 2014, saving an estimated half billion dollars annually.
"We've listened to our customers in rural America and we've heard them loud and clear -- they want to keep their post office open," Donahoe said. "We believe today's announcement will serve our customers' needs and allow us to achieve real savings to help the Postal Service return to long-term financial stability."
Under the new plan, communities would be given the option of keeping their area post offices open but at reduced hours. Another option would be to close a postal office in one area while keeping a nearby one open full-time.
Communities also could opt for alternatives including creating a Village Post Office in which postal services for the nation's more than 21,000 postmasters, noting that more than 80 percent of its postal costs in rural areas are labor-related.
The Postal Service has been grappling with losses as first-class mail volume declines and more people switch to the Internet to send messages and pay bills. The agency has forecast a record $14.1 billion loss by the end of this year; without changes, it said, annual losses will exceed $21 billion by 2016.