A school, a grocery store, a restaurant and a post office. The first three of those four brick-and-mortar markers of a self-sufficient small town took direct hits in Kansas from ’60s school consolidation, multiple recessions and other stressors. Now, the last one is on its last legs, rattling rural communities and fueling questions about how small Kansas towns can sustain themselves.
It’s one thing to hear that the U.S. Postal Service, a government agency that receives no tax revenue, is slashing infrastructure to try to offset what it said Friday were $5.7 billion in losses this year — part of a state of peril brought on by the economy, pension costs, and competition from delivery businesses and electronic bill paying and communications.
It’s something else to learn that your hometown post office is among the nearly 3,700 “underused” offices, including more than 150 in Kansas, targeted for possible closure.
As Shannon Wendt, the city clerk of Geuda Springs, population 225, told the Winfield Daily Courier: “The post office is the one big thing that we still have, and I’m kind of fearful for what’s going to happen to our community.”
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Cuts clearly are part of the remedy for the Postal Service’s woes, but public opinion supports cutting Saturday delivery first — something that would require congressional action and save $3.3 billion to $5.1 billion a year. In a Washington Post poll last year, 71 percent of Americans favored ending Saturday delivery, while 64 percent disapproved of closing local branches including their own.
If they close, these rural post offices will be missed for their neighborly conversations and wealth of information. As a recent e-mail from the Inman-based Kansas Sampler Foundation noted, “in some cases the post office is the only business left in the town. It’s where people meet each day. It’s the place for news. It’s the evidence that ‘we are still a town.’”
The post office also has been a community’s port to the world, especially for doing business.
Rural carriers would remain on the job Monday through Saturday, offering what the Postal Service calls a “post office on wheels.” The service also expects to contract with local stores, libraries and other government offices to sell stamps, money orders and shipping materials.
But will that meet every need? Will potential recruits under Gov. Sam Brownback’s rural opportunity zone program be deterred by a “closed” sign on the local post office? The Kansas Sampler Foundation sees the loss of a community’s post office leading to the loss of its zip code in favor of the “Closest Big Town’s zip code,” meaning the name of one’s hometown would no longer appear on a letter. That would target a small town’s very identity.
The potential impact in rural Kansas is compounded because the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services and the Red Cross each plan to close nine offices across the state.
Where post office closures are proposed, residents should have 60 days to submit feedback and, if the closing goes forward, another 30 days to appeal. As the process proceeds, Kansans should speak up and make sure officials know how losing their post office would affect their lives and communities. As the Kansas Sampler Foundation put it: “Put up a fight.”