Mikulski Fights Closure of Easton Mail Processing Center, Speaks Out on Her Amendments to Postal Bill

Mikulski Discuses Her Amendments to Postal Reform Bill Requiring Post Office to Take into Account Impact on Affected Communities

April 18, 2012

WASHINGTONU.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) today spoke out on the Senate floor against the closure of the Easton Mail Processing Center and outlined her amendments to the Senate postal legislation which would ensure an open and public process as the United States Postal Service (USPS) studies the closure of mail processing centers across the country. Senator Mikulski reaffirmed her commitment to postal reform while insisting that the Post Office take into account the impact those closures would have on affected communities including farmers, small businesses and a significant rural and elderly population that relies heavily on mail delivery for life saving medications, daily newspapers and commerce.  

"The Post Office is not a business, it is a public utility, and we need to think of it as a public utility which provides a universal service to keep the juice and electricity of our economy going. Will it require subsidy? Yes. Does it require an open checkbook? No. Does it require reform? Yes. But the Post Office has reformed itself from the days of the Pony Express to today. They had to face challenges when they invented Western Union. They faced a challenge when we got the telephone. Time and time again the Post Office has needed to reform. It's time to reform again. But if we're going to reform, we need to make sure we provide safeguards to protect rural communities, to protect small businesses and to protect vulnerable populations that don't have access to the Internet," Senator Mikulski said.  

Following her vote yesterday against proceeding to the postal bill, Senator Mikulski introduced four amendments to the legislation to help ensure an open and public process in the USPS closure study that takes into account the impact on affected communities.  

"I have four amendments pending to get the Post Office to make sure that they look at what they're doing.  Right now, they look at the impact of what they're doing on the Post Office. Senator Barb looks at the impact that they're having on the customer and on the community. Think of it as a public utility, and we're turning the lights off on the Eastern Shore. I don't want to turn the lights out on the Eastern Shore, but I do want to keep the lights of the Post Office going," Senator Mikulski said.  

Senator Mikulski's amendments would do the following:  

●          No AMP may be closed without a signed certification from that state's Governor stating that closure of that AMP will not harm community safety, disrupt business and commerce, or limit communications for areas with limited broadband access or cell phone coverage;  

●          No AMP closure may go forward without a community impact study by an independent third party that examines the impact on jobs, unemployment, small businesses and tax revenue, which will be made public prior to finalizing an AMP closure study, allowing appeal from the Postal Regulatory Commission;  

●          The Postal Service must maintain its 'standard of delivery,' preserving overnight delivery for first class mail and mail including prescription drugs for veterans and Medicare recipients, social security checks, veterans' pensions and military pay checks;  

●          The USPS may not close the Easton AMP on Maryland's Eastern Shore.  

Senator Mikulski's remarks, as delivered, follow:  

"Let me talk about postal reform and first about the Post Office. The Post Office is not a business, it is a public utility, and we need to think of it as a public utility which provides a universal service to keep the juice and electricity of our economy going. It is a public utility, mandated by a national interest to provide a universal service; that's the way we should think about it.  

"Will it require subsidy? Yes. Does it require an open checkbook? No. Does it require reform? Yes.  

"But the Post Office has reformed itself from the days of the Pony Express to today. They had to face challenges when they invented Western Union. They faced a challenge when we got the telephone. Time and time again the Post Office has needed to reform. It's time to reform again.  

"But if we're going to reform, we need to make sure we provide safeguards to protect rural communities, to protect small businesses and to protect vulnerable populations that don't have access to the Internet.  

"We have a digital divide in the United States of America. We don't have a universal super-information highway in the United States of America. We do have a digital divide, and the divide is coming because of both geography and because of income.  

"Not everyone walks around with these cool electronic devices. So people rely on the Post Office for correspondence, for paychecks, for the delivery of products that have been ordered over the Internet – those E-Bay entrepreneurs that we know about. Small businesses rely on them for time-sensitive business documents and time-sensitive delivery of products.  

"This is even more important for rural areas. Rural areas have unique geography which can complicate or delay mail delivery.  

"I represent the mountain counties of Western Maryland. At times, the weather is so rugged up there, you need a snowmobile to get through. Then there is the Eastern Shore – the beautiful, dynamic, charming Eastern Shore. But it is nine counties stretching over 150 to close to 200 miles. In some places, they don't have cell phone coverage.  

"Reductions in delivery standards, closing a post office and, most of all, closing a processing center would have a draconian impact.  

"So in my state, we are very concerned about this. We're willing to do reform. We were willing to close a processing center in Western Maryland and worked with Pennsylvania and West Virginia, bordering states, to do this. But now they want to close the Easton Processing Center. It is the only processing center on the Eastern Shore. It is the only mail processing center serving nine counties. In order to use the processing center in Baltimore, it's miles away and across the Bay Bridge.  

"Then there is this whole issue of merging it with Delaware. Delaware is nine counties away from Somerset County, close to 200 miles. The operation of the Eastern Shore processing facility is absolutely crucial. Everybody says, 'oh we just love the Eastern Shore.' Well, I love it too, but I want it to have business. I want my senior citizens to be able to get their prescription drugs by mail and get them in a timely basis. It is a community of small business. That's what the Eastern Shore is. Even our big business of poultry and seafood is made up of small entrepreneurs involved in this. They need a post office, and they need to have it accessed on the Eastern Shore.  

"So last February, the Post Office in its unique way announced the closing. Senators Cardin and myself asked for hearings. The Post Office responded in a very dismissive way. They just dismissed not only Senators Cardin and Mikulski, but they dismissed a half million residents who live on the Eastern Shore and who rely on this.  

"When I asked them if they would even hold a hearing so that farmers and small business owners and seniors could voice their concerns, they said they had heard all that they needed. They had no intention of holding a hearing.  

"Well my constituents have a right to be heard. They have a right to standards of delivery service and they have a right for me to fight for them. I'm going to fight for them, but I'm also going to fight for postal reform. The way Senator Merkley wants to improve the bill, so do I.  

"I have four amendments pending to get the Post Office to make sure that they look at what they're doing.  Right now, they look at the impact of what they're doing on the Post Office. Senator Barb looks at the impact that they're having on the customer and on the community. Think of it as a public utility, and we're turning the lights off on the Eastern Shore.  

"My first amendment says that no processing center can be closed unless a Governor from that state certifies that a closure won't harm the community or disrupt commerce.  

"My second amendment says that no processing center can be closed unless an independent, third party like the commission talks about the impact on jobs, the unemployment rate and small business that is then made available to the public.  

"My third maintains a standard of delivery for overnight mail. On the Eastern Shore, my veterans need their medical care, my seniors need to be able to get their Social Security checks. And the impact on business. Some of the mail that comes through this processing center are even live birds. Are they going to sit around and go back and forth to Baltimore? Man, does that ruffle my feathers.  

"And fourth, it's strictly zip code politics. I will offer an amendment to prevent the closing of the Easton Mail Process Center. If my other three amendments prevail, I think we have it. So it's not just my criteria, it's what Senator Merkley and all of us are talking about.  

"The Post Office is a public utility. When you look at the impact of closing, not only the impact of what the Post Office saves, but what the community loses – is it worth that cost?  

"I don't want to turn the lights out on the Eastern Shore, but I do want to keep the lights of the Post Office going. So in the spirit of compromise, conversation and civility that marks the leadership of this committee, I want to work with the leadership to see if I can be accommodated.  

"I think I have made my point. And next time the Post Office should listen more to the people, or they'll hear more from Senator Barb."