Great Falls Tribune – Montana’s processing centers may stay open

WASHINGTON — Mail processing centers in Helena, Butte and Wolf Point got some good news Wednesday with the Senate passage of legislation to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service.

The three centers had been recommended for consolidation, with some services moving to the processing plant in Great Falls. The sites are now on a list of centers that the USPS says it could keep open to comply with the Senate legislation.

The Senate bill, passed by a 62 to 37 vote, does not include an outright ban on closing or consolidating mail processing facilities. But it does include provisions that would bar the USPS from easing its current overnight delivery service requirement.

Last year, USPS officials said they planned to nix the current overnight delivery standard requiring first-class mail to be delivered within one to three days anywhere in the continental United States. USPS instead wanted to move to a two- to three-day delivery standard.

As a result of the bill, the postal service would be required to keep open at least 100 mail processing centers now targeted for closure, according to a list released by USPS on Tuesday.

Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both D-Mont., praised the bill for protecting rural post offices. Amendments included in the bill would place a one-year moratorium on closing post offices that are more than 10 miles from other post offices. In Montana, almost all of the 85 post offices slated for closure would qualify to remain open under that criteria.

“Montanans won a hard fought victory in our ongoing battle to make sure rural America is not unfairly targeted by postal reform,” said Baucus, who brought the postmaster general to listening sessions in Montana earlier this month.

Tester successfully proposed an amendment that would cut the salary of the postmaster general in half. The postmaster general makes about $400,000 per year in salary and benefits, which is more than Cabinet secretaries make.

“To be fair, everybody needs to feel the pain,” Tester said on the Senate floor. “The postmaster is an important job but so is the secretary of defense. I don’t think we should be paying him more than we pay our Cabinet secretaries.”

The postal bill is pending in the U.S. House, where passage is uncertain.

The postal service announced in February that 223 mail processing facilities had been designated for closure or consolidation as part of a plan to save $22.5 billion by 2016.

Additionally, it has proposed eliminating Saturday mail and cutting about 220,000 jobs.

To avert the closure or consolidation of postal centers, a bill must be signed into law by the president by May 15, when a moratorium on USPS closures will be lifted.

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