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Postal Service "Right-Sizing" Not Popular In Humboldt

Michael Joyce/JPR


The United States Postal Service has been losing money every year since 2007; in total, nearly $45 billion. 

One attempt to remedy the situation has been the consolidation of mail processing centers nationwide. Three slated for relocation are in our area: Redding, Eugene, and Eureka. Residents in Eureka are responding to the likelihood, that by next summer,  their mail will be sorted in Medford.

Over 40-percent of Americans pay their bills online. Not that long ago - back in 2001 - three out of four were still paying bills by mail.

Jim Wigdel: "Our first class mail volume has dropped over 25-percent over the past several years."

Jim Wigdel is a spokesman for the postal service in Northern California and says first class mail used to be their largest source of revenue . Since 1982 the postal service has been a self-supporting entity, operating without taxpayer dollars. It is  expected to compete like any other delivery company.

Jim Wigdel: "It makes a lot of sense to consolidate our network, to rightsize it, to rationalize it as we call it, to make sure we are being as efficient as possible."

But many of the roughly 100 people who showed up for a recent town hall meeting in Eureka thought the notion of Humboldt county mail being sorted in Medford, and then being sent right back to Humboldt for delivery, was not just inefficient but could have unforeseen consequences. Carol Crnich is Humboldt County registrar of voters.

Carol Crnich: "In Humboldt County more than 60 percent of ballots counted are delivered to us by mail. One-third of those were delivered on election day or the day before. So the late delivery of those would cripple our election system. And as I said to the congressman, ‘mail delivery delayed is democracy denied’."

Jennifer Savage of Manila has a son with Type I diabetes and can’t get all his medications at the local pharmacy.

Jennifer Savage: "There is a lot of things we have to order. And the way the health insurance works you can’t stock up ahead of time. So it’s down to a couple of days grace period before he runs out of the things he needs. So any further delays in postal delivery - which is sometimes erratic enough as it is - is potentially a life or death situation for us."

The postal service claims that after consolidation about 20-percent of the first class mail in Humboldt County will be delivered overnight,  an additional 35-percent within 2 days, and the rest delivered in 3 days. They also state no jobs will be lost.

Jared Huffman: "I don’t buy it and neither should you.

Democratic Congressman Jared Huffman estimates the consolidations will cost his district about 200 jobs .

Jared Huffman: "What they also say - and I’ve asked them - is that they will offer positions to everyone affected within 50 miles. So, yeah, if there happens to be a job open in 50 miles and you want to move there you might have a job. If it’s not open in 50 miles they’ll expand it to 100, then 150 miles. So pretty soon they may claim they’re not laying anyone off."

Huffman believes that in order for the postal service to be competitive it should address other root problems before cutting services. Among them is the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. 

This controversial legislation requires the postal service  to fund pension benefits 75 years into the future at over $5 billion per year. They’ve defaulted the past 4 years. The service also needs to  invest an estimated 10-billion dollars in replacing one of the country’s largest and most outdated fleet of vehicles.

No one doubts that change is needed.  What form that change will take is unclear.   But for the US postal service to survive, it will likely need to become something quite different than what most of us have grown accustomed to.