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Begich Protects Bypass Mail for Alaska

Postal reform bill overhauls postal service, supports Alaska services

With the goal of updating the outdated business model of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), protecting jobs, and protecting much-needed services Alaskans rely upon, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today voted in favor of the postal reform legislation in the U.S. Senate. The 21st Century Postal Service Act , S. 1789, passed the Senate by a vote of 62 to 37.

Key among the highlights in the bill is protection of Alaska’s Bypass Mail system. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) had an amendment that would have required the State of Alaska to reimburse the Postal Service for the cost of the Bypass Mail program. Begich strongly opposed the amendment in committee, and the amendment was withdrawn earlier this week.

“Alaskans know the Bypass Mail program is a critical link in our network of keeping communities connected, particularly in rural Alaska where many towns and villages have no road access,” Begich said. “Bypass Mail is a unique and cost effective way for the Postal Service to meet its universal service obligations in Alaska, and I am pleased we were able to protect it.”

 The Postal Service Act takes several steps to ease the immediate financial crisis faced by the USPS, which has lost $25.4 billion over the past four years. The legislation is designed to put USPS back on a path of financial stability, while protecting services, jobs and the rights of postal workers.

This bill will help prevent the closure of post offices in Alaska by providing a one-year moratorium on closures in rural areas as defined by the Census Bureau http://labor.alaska.gov/research/census/urbrur.htm. The bill also grants the Postal Regulatory Commission increased authority to reverse rural closure decisions, and it prevents the Postal Service from closing post offices if the nearest alternative post office is more than 10 miles away, or if closure will negatively affect a rural community’s postal customers or small businesses.

Sen. Begich remains concerned about protecting post offices and services in Alaska.  That’s why he cosponsored a number of successful amendments, including the one providing the one-year moratorium on the closing of any rural post office.  It also prevents the Postal Service from closing a rural post office if it would reduce postal customers’ access to essential items, such as prescription drugs; if it would cause businesses in a rural community to suffer economic loss; or if the area under consideration does not have adequate access to wired broadband Internet.

The Senate also passed an amendment, co-sponsored by Sen. Begich, expressing the sense of the Senate that the Postal Service should not close any postal facilities before enactment of this legislation. This tells the USPS that no closures should happen until the House also passes a postal reform bill, differences in the Senate are worked out, and the President signs it into law.

Other successful amendments cosponsored or supported by Begich include:

  • Providing binding authority to the Postal Regulatory Commission to review, prevent, or reverse any closure decision by the Postal Service;
  • Establishing a non-paid citizen’s service protection advocate for communities where the Postal Service is considering closing or consolidating a local post office;
  • Limiting pay for Postal Service executives to prevent postal closures and cutbacks in services.

Earlier this year, Begich and the rest of the Alaska Congressional Delegation successfully fought back the proposed closure of 31 rural post offices in Alaska. There are still five post offices on a potential closure list, and Begich is continuing to urge the USPS to keep them open.

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