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Published: Sunday, 5/20/2012


Stay of execution

Thousands of U.S. Postal Service employees at regional mail-processing centers, including 338 workers at the South St. Clair Street center in Toledo, learned late last week that their jobs are spared for two years.

But that reprieve -- which still will require nearly half of the 461 regional centers to close -- does not lessen the urgency of the Postal Service, with necessary help from Congress, addressing its budget problems and making other reforms.

Under the Postal Service's latest plans, the nation's 3,700 rural post offices -- including 30 in northwest Ohio and Michigan's Monroe and Lenawee counties -- also will stay open, but with reduced hours. The service offers no assurances beyond February, 2014.

The future of all postal facilities, and the mail-delivery system itself, remains tenuous. More cuts seem inevitable. Toledo's mail-processing facility is not among 140 centers that are scheduled to close within nine months. After that, it's anyone's guess.

The Postal Service needs to cut spending and capacity as consumers and businesses embrace other delivery options. But it also has fallen victim to power politics. As a consequence, Americans continue to fear the potential effects of slower delivery of prescription drugs and vital documents they now receive in the mail, as well as threats to their ability to pay their bills on time.

A Senate-approved bill would halt closings of many rural post offices. The House continues to debate steep cuts, while lawmakers consider a plan that the Postal Service says could return it to profitability by 2015. It includes nearly $11 billion in employee buyouts and early retirement-incentives. It could include the end of Saturday mail delivery.

But the central issue remains to be addressed: 84 percent of the Postal Service's debt is the result of a 2006 law that requires the agency to pre-fund 75 years of its future retirees' health benefits in 10 years. No other federal agency is required to do that.

The reprieve helps. But until Congress relieves the Postal Service of its unjustified retirement funding burden, its fate will remain in limbo.

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