Senators seek to block USPS facility closures

Exactly half of the Senate is calling on Congress to block the U.S. Postal Service from shuttering dozens of processing centers, saying such a move would hurt consumers that rely on the mail.

In a letter to appropriators, a bipartisan group of 50 senators said that any deal struck to fund the government this September should place a one-year moratorium on the service’s plans for consolidating its processing network.

The USPS said more than a month ago that, starting in January, it would consolidate as many as 82 processing centers, adding to the 141 processing plants that the agency has closed in recent years.

"The wave of closures will directly impact 37 states across our nation, and more importantly, the citizens who count on the Postal Service to be reliable," the mostly Democratic lawmakers wrote in a letter organized by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

The Postal Service, which lost $2 billion in its most recent quarter despite increasing revenues, has long urged Congress to pass legislation to give it more leeway to both cut costs and grow new revenue streams.

Agency officials blamed the logjam on Capitol Hill for their decision to make the further consolidations, which they said would save in the neighborhood of $750 million a year.

Top lawmakers like House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) have worked for years on postal reform legislation, but have yet to get a bill to President Obama’s desk.

The USPS has asked for, among other things, the ability to only deliver packages on Saturday and relief from a requirement that it prepay for future retiree healthcare.

But the senators on the letter said that the consolidations would also lead to the loss of 15,000 jobs, and further slow down delivery times.

The USPS largely did away with next-day letter delivery with its first wave of processing center consolidation. The agency also says this next round of consolidations won’t lead to any layoffs, and that “every effort will be made” to find new jobs for those at plants that are closing.

Democrats and even Republicans from rural states have resisted the Postal Service’s efforts to shutter facilities. Six GOP senators — Roy Blunt (Mo.), Susan Collins (Maine), Orrin Hatch (Utah), John Hoeven (N.D.), James Inhofe (Okla.) and John Thune (S.D.) — joined most Senate Democrats in signing on to the letter.