USPS: Carbondale processing center to close; Cape Girardeau, Paducah safe for now

The processing center in Cape Girardeau appears safe until 2014.
The processing center in Cape Girardeau appears safe until 2014.
Union members had picketed in Paducah after news of the scheduled closing there.
Union members had picketed in Paducah after news of the scheduled closing there.

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS/AP) - The nearly bankrupt U.S. Postal Service is moving ahead with plans to close dozens of mail processing centers, saying on Thursday it can no longer wait as Congress remains deadlocked over how to help.

According to USPS, the Carbondale facility is still on the Phase 1 processing center consolidation list.

For now, it looks as if the processing centers in Cape Girardeau and Paducah are safe until 2014.  The Postal Service had previously announced in February that it would close the processing and distribution centers in Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, and Paducah.  A list of around 80 additional processing centers to close in 2014 will be announced next year.  Richard Watkins with the Metro Kansas City/Springfield Joplin/Cape Girardeau area of the Postal Service says Cape Girardeau and Paducah could be on the Phase 2 list.

At a news briefing, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the agency's mail processing network had simply become too big, given declining mail volume and its mounting debt. It will now consolidate nearly 250 plants as originally planned, including 48 this summer, but will stretch out the remainder over a longer time frame in 2013 and 2014.

Watkins says the changes announced last week about rural post offices and Wednesday about the 140 processing centers will hopefully put the Postal Service on track for financial solvency.

Earlier this month, nearly half the Senate had written letters to Donahoe asking that he hold off on closing any mail facility until Congress could pass final postal overhaul legislation. The Senate last month passed a bill that would halt many of the closings; the House remains stalled over a measure allowing for more aggressive cuts.

"To return to long-term profitability and financial stability while keeping mail affordable, we must match our network to the anticipated workload," Donahoe said. Failure to do so, he stressed, would "create a fiscal hole that the Postal Service will not be able to climb out of."

Under the modified approach, up to 140 mail processing centers will be consolidated by next February; roughly 48 in August and about 90 next January and February, with closings suspended during the Postal Service's busy election and holiday mail season. Another 89 closings would occur in 2014.

The consolidations are expected to reduce postal staff by 13,000 and save the struggling mail agency roughly $1.2 billion annually once they are fully implemented.

The latest postal move comes after vociferous protests from communities across the U.S., particularly those in rural areas, over the mail agency's initial multibillion dollar cost-cutting plan to close up to 3,700 post offices and 252 mail processing centers. The Postal Service last week backed off the closing of post offices, saying it would cut costs instead by reducing operating hours.

Thursday's announcement seeks to allay some rural concerns about immediate, broad-scale cuts to mail processing centers that would have slowed first-class mail delivery of prescription drugs, newspapers and other services beginning this summer and would have virtually eliminated the chance for a stamped letter to arrive the next day.

Under the new plan, about 80 percent of the U.S. areas that currently enjoy overnight first-class mail delivery will continue to do so through the end of next year. After that, barring congressional action, the Postal Service will proceed with additional steps that could slow first-class mail and reduce overnight delivery even further, said Megan Brennan, chief operating officer of the Postal Service.

The Postal Service has been grappling with losses as first-class mail volume declines and more people switch to the Internet to communicate and pay bills. The agency has forecast a record $14.1 billion loss by the end of this year. Without changes, it said, annual losses would exceed $21 billion by 2016.

Donahoe stressed that even with its latest moves, the agency still faces mounting losses without congressional action that would give it more leeway to eliminate Saturday mail delivery and reduce health and labor costs.

If the House fails to act soon, postal officials say they will face a cash crunch in August and September, when the agency must pay more than $11 billion to the Treasury for future retiree health benefits. Already $13 billion in debt, the health payment obligation will force the agency to run up against its $15 billion debt ceiling, causing it to default on the payments.

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (MO-08) released this statement about the Cape Girardeau processing center not included on the closing list.

"I'm glad the U.S. Postal Service recognizes the need to step back from closing facilities which are essential to their service to the American public. In the many conversations I have had with the USPS, I have emphasized the importance of adhering to a mission of customer service. Cutting their operations, dropping services and slowing delivery times are simply not consistent with that mission. The Richard G. Wilson Processing and Distribution facility is extremely important to postal delivery in Southeast Missouri. I will continue to convey the importance we all place on the excellent work done there," Emerson said.

"I think this is going to help us a lot," said Linda Breitweg.

"I think it's great," said Scot Mansfield.

"It's a good thing its staying in Cape," said Glen Youngblood.

That's the stamp of approval from people in the Cape Girardeau area, after they heard the Cape Distribution Center will stay open.

"This is going to be so much better because it the outlying rural areas, the mail will at least get to us in a reasonable length of time," said Breitweg.

"Well I'm glad they're leaving our center open, because that's a hundred people that still get to keep their jobs in Cape," said Youngblood.

The ones in Cape said they feel for the closure in Carbondale.

"It's going to be really hard on the people over there, rural areas are the ones it going to be really hard on," said Breitweg.

"Maybe transfer some of the people from Carbondale over to Cape or Paducah," said Youngblood.

"It's sad for the people around Carbondale but still on the same hand, people around Cape and the businesses and things will benefit that this will definitely stay open for their benefit, and their use at any time," said Mansfield.

If closures affect mail delivery times, Breitweg said people won't wait.

"If the mail keeps slowing down, and slowing down, people aren't going to be able to use it, because it will be just too slow," said Breitweg.

It's a dilemma that lives on for the US Postal Service: how do they manage the budget, but still serve their customers?

"If they can cut out Saturday deliveries, maybe that would save a lot of jobs," said Youngblood.

"They need to be conscious of the money and how they spend it," said Mansfield.

For now, people said they're glad the Cape center is staying open, keeping the jobs, and the mail drop-off.

"It's fast and convenient when going to Wal-Mart and Target, drop the mail off," said Youngblood.

"It makes it very convenient for everyone to come by and pick things up and drop things off," said Mansfield.

Copyright 2012 KFVS. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.