The U.S. Postal Service is in the midst of a major cost-cutting effort. Along with the well-publicized end of Saturday delivery that may happen this year and consolidating major mail centers, there is another move that is hitting home in rural America. The Postal Service plans on cutting staff and hours at about 13-thousand post offices. Bill Wheelhouse with the WUIS Harvest Desk takes us to a town in Macoupin County that will likely feel the impact:
It’s rush hour in Nilwood. Here, in the the parking lot in front of the post office each morning. You see there’s no mail delivery in the town. The 230 or so residents have and pick it up themselves. A car pulls in the lot in front of the building every ten minutes or so.
Doris Love stopped by and goes through her mail on this March morning:
LOVE “My local newspaper today…this is Thursday. So we get all the local news..and whatever and Monday we get all the advertisements and those good things..to let us know what’s going on .”
In rural communities like Nilwood, the local post office is still a connection to information, be it through the paper that comes in the mail or the chat with the postmaster. These tiny post offices may not quite be an endangered species. But their way of life is threatened. The postal service has proposed reducing the hours of a lot of post offices.. many of those are in small towns . Love says she doesn’t like the idea of a cut:
LOVE “I think it would terrible…where would I get my mail ..I would have to drive somewhere else.some other town or I don’t know how that would happen. It would be very inconvenient.”
Back in 2011…the Postal Service announced it would close about four thousand post offices, including this one in Nilwood, which is about 35 miles south of Springfield. After an outcry, the Postal Service backtracked and came up with a reorganization plan. It will cut the hours in half at many of the small post offices and do away with the job of Postmaster in those towns
There are a couple of reasons for the postal service’s fiscal problems one is the congressional requirement to pre-pay retirement benefits. The postal service also blames e-mail, on line bill paying and other modern technology reducing the use of first class mailing. Yet it is rural areas that are least able to take advantage of the hi-tech conveniences. There is less access to high speed internet in small country towns. Steve Hutkins runs the website “Savethepostoffice dot com”:
HUTKINS “People stop by and say hi to each other and that sort of thing.. and they share information about what’s going on in the town..in my post office there is a bulletin board with everything from you know a lost dog to the bake sale the post office helps bind the town together and postal system helps bind the country together”
What will probably happen to Nilwood has already happened at several thousand post offices across the country, A massive reduction in the hours of operation. On a grander scale it gives those who study rural America pause. Timothy Collins Assistant Director of the Illinois Institute for rural affairs at western Illinois University says the post office reductions reflect a greater issue:
COLLINS “Over the past 10 or 15 years, there’s been what I call a… uhm a phased withdrawal if you will of the federal government from rural America..this phased withdrawal has happened on a number of levels.”
Collins cites reductions in federal support for soil conservation programs and for extension services as a couple of examples. He says it is a reversal of eight decades where government was the last helper for people in rural areas.
Back in Nilwood… Phil Starks who served as mayor of the community during the 1990’s…says he is skeptical of any plan that says there will be savings by cutting or getting rid of a small post office:
Strk :10(“if they did…the money they save.. the dumbasses in Washington will spend it… that’s the way I feel about it.)
The Postal Service is holding hundreds of meetings on the fate of small post offices in the coming weeks.
For now, Nilwood hasn’t received notice of plans or meetings to discuss any changes at their post office. But residents can expect some type of mail in the next year…not bearing good news for them.
The community of Mount Pulaski in Logan County has been given notice. A public hearing is set for April 3 to discuss the future of that facility.
Harvest Public Media is a collaboration of WUIS and other midwestern stations covering farm and food.