The top dogs at the US Post Office (USPS) have spoken. Of six retail postal branch closures proposed for all of Washington state two are in poor, residential Tacoma neighborhoods. In other words one-third of these vulnerable offices are located less than 5 miles apart.
The branch office in the Hilltop neighborhood is ironically located on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. The other outlet is near South 56th and Tacoma Avenue South. Both of these facilities serve clientele in high density, lower income neighborhoods. One must wonder why these offices got selected versus others in more affluent areas of the city.
The USPS just announced a 2.4 billion loss for the third quarter of 2009 and the government released a list of retail postal branches that may be cut nationwide. Given the losses something has to be done, but I question the wisdom of closing two branches in disadvantaged areas in Tacoma while other communities have escaped the ax altogether.
According to information in the local News Tribune the other Washington offices slated for closure are the Midway Station in Kent, the downtown Federal Building annex in Seattle, an industrial area office in Spokane and a rural office near Union Gap. The state capitol and other major metropolitan areas, including Vancouver, managed to avoid selection.
Criteria for selecting which branches to close are not cited. Those folks impacted by proposed closures can attend local public hearings and submit written surveys or comments but time is limited. According to a synopsis of the proposed closures prepared by the Congressional Research Service in late July, retail postal outlets, such as these two Tacoma stations, can be closed in as little as 60 days. The period for commentary is just 20 days and notification of the constituency is not mandatory. The process for closing regular post offices is much more stringent.
I certainly didn’t realize there is a difference between a retail postal branch and a regular post office. These retail annexes offer the same services, look and employees of standard post offices. The branch or outlet designation makes a big difference to the feds, and that is what will make this type of closure difficult to fight. The tragedy is that some of our most needy citizens may not even be aware of the impact or their right comment until it is too late.
The USPS is more than just a point A to point B mailing service and stamp vendor. The local postal retail branch is a vital community resource for the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and the homeless. People without bank accounts can purchase low fee Postal Money Orders. People without secure mail boxes at their homes can rent post boxes. People less able due to age, physical limitations or finances can access mailing services near where they live.
The first public hearing about the Martin Luther King Branch closure is Thurs, August 6, 2009 at 6pm at the main Tacoma library at 1102 Tacoma Avenue. A discussion of the South 56th area office is scheduled for next Tuesday at that same time and location. The Tacoma Postmaster will attend these meetings along with other officials.
There is little time to waste and it’s up to the neighborhoods and citizens to step forward and make our opinions heard. Take time to talk with your neighbors, step forward, and let your voice be heard.