Let's be blunt. Under the circumstances, the U.S. Postal Service's plan to close the Buffalo mail processing center makes no sense. It is a destructive and unnecessary response to a real problem. Congress has it in its power to relieve the pressure so that the Postal Service can more smoothly adapt. It should do that.
The digital age has brought multiple opportunities, but as with any profound change, it has also presented significant and sometimes wrenching challenges. For the Postal Service, it began with the ability of consumers to send emails rather than letters. Then consumers were able to pay their utility and credit card bills online. Together, these salvos opened a gigantic hole in the Postal Service's business structure.
The consequence has been a budget deficit that requires the Postal Service's immediate attention. Among its ideas have been to eliminate Saturday mail deliveries and to close facilities. Thursday it announced plans to do the latter. It wants to shutter 223 facilities nationwide, including the highly efficient Buffalo Processing and Distribution Center on William Street.
The financial pressure on the Postal Service is as real as a package bomb, but there are other ways to defuse the threat. First and foremost, Congress needs to relieve the Postal Service of a requirement it imposes on no other federal agency.
Six years ago, Congress required the Postal Service to pay a staggering$5.5 billion annually into a fund to cover workers' health benefits for the next 75 years—that is, for future employees who have not even been born yet. Eliminating that burden would go a long way toward giving the Postal Service the ability to adjust to the changes undermining it.
Instead, by closing the William Street center, the Postal Service is going to add days to the time it takes to deliver mail locally, because a letter mailed from Buffalo to Buffalo will first have to go to Rochester. That will also slow delivery of critical needs such as Social Security checks and mail-order prescription drugs. In the end, it will further discourage use of the Postal Service, not enhance it.
The Postal Service decided to close the Buffalo center rather than Rochester's because of Rochester's more central location in the region. But Buffalo serves the larger population, including a huge delivery market in Ontario.
What is more, as Rep. Brian Higgins points out, the Postal Service in the last 18 months has given the Buffalo facility its gold-standard rating for efficiency and cost-effectiveness. And this is a facility it wants to close? Shouldn't it be keeping it open as an example to other facilities?
In addition to relieving the Postal Service of the burden of prefunding health benefits, other answers are available, including a larger increase in the cost of mailing a letter. That might also discourage use of the Postal Service, it is true, but not as badly as adding days to the delivery schedule.
The point is that there are other options that will better serve the public while protecting up to 700 jobs at the Buffalo center. Congress and the Postal Service need to take another look at this. Now.