ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska’s U.S. senators are among the bipartisan sponsors of an act that would severely hinder plans by the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service to close post offices in many of the nation’s rural areas. The Protecting Rural Post Offices Act was introduced in the Senate Thursday.
Under the act, the Postal Service could not close any location which would leave the next closest post office more than 10 miles away, as measured on roads with year-round access. Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski both sponsored it, along with Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Jon Tester, (D-Mon.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore).
In July the USPS announced that some 36 Alaska post offices, many in rural areas of the state, were on a list of 3,700 locations nationwide being studied for closure. After stiff opposition from Begich and Murkowski, postal officials -- who faced an $8 billion loss last year despite cutting 110,000 employees -- announced in September that 31 of the Alaska locations had been removed from the closure study list.
Both Begich and Murkowski commented Thursday on the importance of Alaska’s rural post offices to their customers.
“There’s no replacement in rural Alaska for the post office which is really a community center where locals get their medicine, groceries and other vital equipment,” Begich said in a joint statement issued by the act's sponsors. “We’re introducing this legislation because the Postal Service needs to be clear about the standards used to evaluate post offices. In many rural Alaska communities, year-round road access is as foreign a thought as an Arizona glacier or a piece of Oklahoma beach-front property.”