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McCaskill advocates subsidizing USPS, keeping rural post offices open

Sunday, February 5, 2012 | 4:13 p.m. CST

KANSAS CITY — Sen. Claire McCaskill plans to announce proposals Monday to keep rural post offices open and maintain six-day mail delivery for at least the next four years.

McCaskill wants the proposals added to the 21st Century Postal Service Act, which addresses the U.S. Postal Service's massive revenue problems. She provided details of her plan in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of an appearance Monday in Kansas City.

"The value of a post office is something that is bigger than the bricks and mortar," McCaskill said. "It is emotional, and it grounds these small communities."

The Postal Service is an independent agency of government, but it does not receive tax money, though it is subject to congressional control on major aspects of its operations. The agency is expected to lose a record $14.1 billion this year as increased Internet use reduces mail volume, but a plan to close 252 mail processing centers and 3,700 local post offices has been put on hold until mid-May.

McCaskill's proposal would allow the independent Postal Regulatory Commission to prevent post offices from being shuttered when the Postal Service did not present communities alternatives to closure, such as reducing hours of operation.

Her proposal to continue six-day mail delivery for four years is two years longer than is proposed in the 21st Century Postal Service Act. McCaskill also wants to maintain one- to three-day delivery standards for first class mail. The Postal Service has proposed changing this standard to two to three days, but those changes were put on hold at the same time as the post office closures. President Barack Obama has advocated allowing the agency to reduce mail delivery by one day a week to save money.

McCaskill's plan also includes cutting costs by reducing agency payments into an account to fund future retiree health benefits. The annual payments into that account currently total $5.5 billion, but McCaskill has proposed cutting them to between $3 billion and $3.5 billion annually. She's also asking that a commission be established that can recommend a new business model for the postal service to "achieve long-term fiscal sustainability within one year. "

But if those efforts fail to ensure the Postal Service remained self-sustaining, McCaskill said it would be reasonable for the government to help subsidize it.

"We have underwritten, the government, in various ways the last mile electrical service in this country, the last mile of phone service in this country," she said. "If we are going to underwrite some of these other services as a government, I don't understand why we can't slightly underwrite the postal service as a government so that these rural communities have that service also."


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