Apr 19 2012
M. President, I rise today to share with you the deep concerns I am hearing from my constituents all across West Virginia, who are worried about what will happen to their rural communities if their local post offices are forced to shut their doors.
In our state, we know that the Postal Service is at the very core of what makes this country great and what connects us all – in fact, the Postal Service is America -- and that is why we are willing to come together across party lines to fight hard to preserve the essential services that the Postal Service provides. We also know that serving rural communities isn’t always profitable, and private companies won’t come in to fill the gap if the postal service leaves. As Americans, we need our rural communities to stay in touch with the rest of this great nation – and I am fighting along with the members of our delegation to put a stop to these proposed closures.
These concerns for the future of the Postal Service are bringing all West Virginians – Democrats and Republicans alike – together for protests, rallies, and letter writing campaigns.
In communities where people were told their post offices down the road might be closed, I’m hearing people’s fear of unacceptable consequences: seniors who wouldn’t be able to get their medicines delivered, problems receiving important checks and other financial services, and – just as importantly – the loss of the ability to stay connected to the community and to this country as a whole.
This note comes from George Jones in Nebo, which is in Clay County.
“Few people in this area have access to the Internet. They still rely on the post offices to keep them connected to the world. And our people still use the post office. It just makes no sense to cut services to the people who still use them.”
In communities where the post office has already closed, I’ve heard about what it’s meant to the town and its residents. This note comes from Delores Wilson in Norton, which is in Randolph County.
“Our post office was closed last November. We now have cluster boxes which are out there in the weather, and our residents are scared to have their prescription drugs mailed to their home or these boxes. Our community has been severely affected. We used to see each other while getting our mail. Our postmaster would let us know when children were born or neighbors passed away. We collected funds at the post office to help our neighbors when in need. Now, we don’t have a central location to do that because our small community no longer has its post office.”
M. President, I have always said that we as a people and a country need to pick our priorities based on our values, and in West Virginia, keeping the Postal Service intact is one of the things our people truly care about. That is why I have raised very serious concerns about the bill we have before us, which does nothing to ensure that the 3,700 post offices currently on a list for potential closure – including 150 in West Virginia – are able to keep their doors open to serve their communities.
So today, I would like to encourage all my colleagues to vote for an amendment I have offered that would prohibit any postal facility from being closed for two years, while the Postal Service figures out better ways to get their financial house in order. I have offered this amendment because, as I have heard from my constituents, we simply cannot afford to let these facilities close in the communities that need them most.
In our rural towns – places like Norton and Nebo West Virginia – the Postal Service is about much more than a place to send and receive mail. Our postal facilities are the centerpieces of our communities; they are places where people gather and share important information. And they are a symbol of the importance of our small towns to the people whose families have always been there; they are our little place on the map.
This note came from Deanna Halstead from Boone County, where the Uneeda Post Office could soon be closed.
“We’ve had a post office in this area since 1902. In fact, the story goes that the citizens petitioned for a post office and were asked what to name it. A gentleman saw a can of Nabisco’s Uneeda Biscuits and that’s how the post office and town got their name. It would be a shame to lose that history, and it would be hard for our elderly and disabled citizens to travel farther for these services. Fifteen miles does not sound like much to people in Washington, but when you rely on public transportation or a neighbor to take you, it becomes a big burden.”
I myself grew up in the small town of Farmington, West Virginia, a community of just a few hundred people, and I speak from experience when I say that post offices in these rural communities serve as a critical lifeline.
Even now, as an elected representative, I receive dozens, sometimes hundreds of letters a day from my constituents, many of whom don’t have access to the Internet and can only reach me by writing a letter.
That is what is so unique about our post offices. They are a vital link for West Virginians and many others throughout this country. And for them, it is so important that their mail service remain uncompromised.
We all know that the U.S. Postal Service is in dire straits. The combination of the recent recession, the increased use of email and text messages, and the costs of retiree health benefits have put the Postal Service on a path to financial ruin. In order to remain solvent, the United States Postal Service must cut costs by $20 billion by 2015.
Now, anyone who has heard me speak before knows that I share a deep commitment to fiscal responsibility, and that I truly believe that this nation’s out-of-control finances are the biggest threat we face.
I am not alone. At Senate Armed Services Committee hearing a year ago, the then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, was asked his opinion on the greatest threat to our national security.
Coming from the Defense Department, I would have thought he would say something about terrorism or some other rising military power.
But what he said was very simple: Our national debt.
That was one of the most sobering moments I have had since becoming a United States Senator.
So believe me, M. President, when I say that I truly believe we all have to set our priorities based on our values and learn very quickly to live within our means.
But there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it.
M. President, the bill we have before us would propose to close 3,700 rural post offices for a total savings of $200 million – a figure that is less than 1 percent of the Postal Service’s $20 billion and is roughly equivalent to the amount we spend in one day in Afghanistan. While achieving very little in terms of the Postal Service’s bottom line, this proposal would have an enormous impact on the 3,700 communities – including a potential 150 in West Virginia – that rely on their post offices as an integral part of their day-to-day lives.
This bill would also lower delivery standards by allowing the Postal Service to go to five-day service and eliminating door delivery. And, it would add to our national deficit. In short, I am not sure what exactly we are hoping to accomplish with this piece of legislation.
Already in West Virginia, we know for certain that three of our Mail Processing facilities will be closing, one in Clarksburg, one in Parkersburg and one in Petersburg. We still don’t know the fate of our facility in Bluefield. The impact those closures will have on the Postal Service’s bottom line is minimal – but the impact to those communities is widely felt.
Rather than making drastic cuts on the front lines, the Postal Service needs to consider a different approach to getting their financial house in order. I truly believe we can save the Postal Service without making cuts to the services our communities rely on and the lifeline that they need – and without adding to our enormous deficit. We can work together on a way to keep our postal facilities open, expand services that raise revenue, eliminate enormous bonuses for executives, and sustain 6-day a week delivery service.
My colleagues and I have suggested many commonsense ideas that could help solve the problem. For one, current law caps pay for Postal Service executives at $199,700, the rate of pay for most Cabinet-level Secretaries. But provisions in the law allow for bonuses and other compensation to increase total take-home pay of these executives to $276,840.
That figure is 20 percent higher than the Vice President’s salary.
In addition, the Congressional Research Service has noted that “postal executives may be eligible for deferred annual incentive bonuses that exceed existing caps, the payment of which can be deferred until after he or she leaves the Postal Service.”
As an example, according to CRS, former Postmaster General John Potter earned $501,384 in total compensation in fiscal year 2010.
I think most Americans would be shocked to know that Postal Service executives can earn larger salaries, in the form of bonuses and deferred compensation, than Cabinet-level secretaries.
These excesses must be eliminated.
We know from an August 2011 report by the Postal Service Inspector General that the Postal Service maintains 67 million square feet of excess interior space, and that getting rid of this unneeded real estate could net $3.4 billion over 10 years. I think this is a revenue raiser that deserves some serious consideration.
I would also ask: during a time when finances are tight, why did the Postal Service spend advertising dollars sponsoring the U.S. Tour de France team and is now sponsoring a NASCAR racing team?
M. President, there are a variety of ways for the Postal Service to get its financial house in order without closing their doors in the communities that rely on them most.
Back in April, my office coordinated regional open meetings in communities whose past offices are on a list for potential closure. Along with representatives from the U.S. Postal Service, my staff was on hand at these meetings in McDowell, Raleigh, Wood and Randolph Counties to give local residents the opportunity to share creative proposals and commonsense ideas to help preserve post offices in their communities. We got the message loud and clear: West Virginians do not want to see their post offices closed.
And we continue to hear from hundreds of West Virginians in letters, phone calls and petitions. Folks like Rebecca from Raleigh County, where the Clear Creek Post Office is facing closure. Her community has had a post office for 140 years.
“We are an isolated area,” she says. “The roads are curvy, and our citizens are elderly. If this post office closes, it will be 20 miles roundtrip to the nearest post office.”
M. President, it’s a rare thing to see a community – hundreds of communities, really – come together around a single issue like this one. But we are seeing hundreds and hundreds of people rush to the defense of an institution that has built this nation into what we are today. West Virginians do not want to see that disappear, and neither do I. That is why I will fight, along with my colleagues, to find a solution that forces the Postal Service to get its financial house in order without balancing its books on the backs of our rural communities.
Thank you M. President, and I yield the floor.