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December 09, 2016
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Shortchanging postal customers; Closing regional sorting centers harms small businesses and postal patrons

Last week not a single New York State subscriber to The River Reporter who receives his or her newspaper through the mail got it on time, courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), and the U.S. Congress. Our phones rang off the hook with unhappy readers.

To our readers: we don’t blame you for being unhappy. The newspaper that you routinely expect to receive on Thursday was not delivered until Saturday or in some cases not until Monday.

So, first off, we would like to apologize to each and every subscriber who was disappointed and/or inconvenienced by this unwelcome situation.

Next, we would like to address what’s going on with USPS in our region. This sad state of affairs is a direct result of the shutting down of the USPS sorting and distribution center in Newburgh, NY, due to budgetary requirements established by the U.S. Congress. The mail you now post in Sullivan County (even if its destination is another location in Sullivan County) has to be driven those extra 100 miles from Newburgh to Albany to be sorted, before it goes on to its destination. Not only the extra distance, but also the timing of the delivery conspired to delay your receiving your newspaper.

Last week, as we have always done, The River Reporter delivered its newspapers to the Newburgh sorting facility on Wednesday before noon. But after that, things went awry. On Friday, the best explanation of what happened came from a tight-lipped postal employee (we can’t help but think they were under instruction not to say more) that the cause was “the big transition” in the USPS Mid-Hudson region. “We hope to resolve these issues soon,” was the best apology we got.

On Monday, when we finally reached Newburgh’s USPS Postmaster Robert Dini and explained that our readers had not received their newspapers on Thursday, as was customary, his response was, “That’s probably not going to happen anymore.” Simply put, the consequences of the consolidation of sorting centers will affect our newspaper and its readers, and also can be expected to extend to other postal customers and other businesses in our region. (Pennsylvania postal customers in the Upper Delaware River Valley should not be too complaisant, either; mail once sorted in Scranton now goes to the Lehigh Valley sorting center and has also recently cause delivery delays of The River Reporter.)

Here’s the timeline of what happened last week: Our newspapers were dropped off at Newburgh before noon Wednesday where they were verified for their appropriate postage. After that, the papers sat, waiting to be trucked to Albany in the evening to be processed, before being trucked back to Newburgh and then sent on to local post offices in the Upper Delaware River Valley. The Newburgh postmaster held out the hope that the system might become more efficient as time goes on, but he made no promises. A conversation with a spokesperson in Albany confirmed that “periodicals typically take from two to 10 days for delivery.”

Frankly, we think this situation is intolerable, and while one would be tempted to blame the entire matter on the post office, this is not primarily a case of inefficiency. This is the result of a business decision forced on the postal service by a number of factors; among them a requirement by Congress that USPS set aside 75% (in cash) of all of its future healthcare costs for retired employees. (It is worth noting that Congress has never required this of any other business, whether public or private.)

In our opinion, Congress must either undo this requirement, freeing up those funds—allowing for a more sensible plan for sorting mail other than trucking it a hundred miles out of its way, or otherwise find the funds to underwrite the cost of running the post office—yes, even if it loses money. Among the reasons to do so is this: the post office is an essential public service that helps keep the economy running. The River Reporter offers just one example of a small business that has no other method than the mail (and in our case, newsstands) to deliver its product. There are some members of Congress who would be content to let both email and FedEx and UPS destroy the post office, but in doing so, they would be destroying countless businesses, too. In our opinion, such economic losses to the country are not acceptable.

Finally, the new system that is being put in place by consolidating postal sorting and distribution centers makes little sense from another viewpoint—the viewpoint of sustainability. What sense does it make to haul mail that was posted in Monticello or Mongaup Valley all the way to Albany, just to truck it back to be delivered in Liberty and Livingston Manor? What a waste of gasoline.

Whatever happened to “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds?” It seems that this creed is now deemed by Washington DC to be too expensive to fulfill any more.

Postal customers should demand to have their postal service properly funded.