With the United States Postal Service losing $8.5 billion last year—and with nearly half of all bill payments now being made online—some 3,653 post offices nationwide (out of 31,871) are being reviewed for possible closing. Illinois carries the dubious distinction of having the most potential closures—176. The vast majority are in small communities and rural areas, but Chicago gets whacked with the possible closing of 12 stations—and all of them sit in the congressional districts of either Danny Davis or Bobby Rush.
Review—which includes such factors as number of customers served, revenue generated, and alternative facilities located within a reasonable distance—does not necessarily mean the facility will be closed. Members of Congress could attempt to stop the closures; their constituents are allotted 60 days and a community meeting to respond or complain; they can then appeal the decision to the Postal Regulatory Commission.
Congressman Davis, who sits on the subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal, Labor—he was chairman until the Republicans took over the House—has no intention of quietly accepting the closings.
He went to a briefing yesterday with Karen E. Schenck, the newly appointed acting district manager/postmaster. “We were assured that this is not set in concrete” Davis told me in a telephone conversation today. “We were told pretty concretely that all of the postal facilities listed will not be closed.”
Closing them, says Davis, would be a terrible hardship for his constituents. “I make no bones about who I represent—very low income.” Revenue generation should not be used as a criteria, he argues, mentioning the affected neighborhoods of North Lawndale, East and West Garfield Park, and Austin. “How many packages are you going to mail? My constituents don’t buy anything. They get maybe $700 a month and are scared of cuts in Medicare. You have no reason to go to the post office—except the very important reason, to pick up your check. Of course these facilities don’t generate revenue.”
That doesn’t mean, he says, that the communities he represents should be without post offices. “I’m concerned about a cluster on the West Side, Near West Side to the edge of the city,” he says. “If all are closed, that whole section of the city will not have a post office."
Davis’s next step is to make sure that Schenck, who comes to Chicago from the Lakeland District in Wisconsin, shows up at the next meeting of West Side Black Elected Officials. “I already asked her to be there.”
Losing a post office would likely have the gravest impact on older constituents, and Davis mentions that many of his are senior citizens. They don’t have computers, aren’t connected to the internet, and are unlikely to use online postal services.
Targeted post offices in Davis’s district include the Otis Grant Collins station on south Pulaski, the Haymarket Station on north Clinton, the Chinatown Station on south Wentworth, the Mary Alice Henry Post Office on West Madison, the Nancy B. Jefferson on South Western, the Rev. Milton R. Brunson Station on South Laramie, the Robert LeFlore Jr. station on west Division.
Locations under review in Rush’s district include the Ashburn Post Office on West 79th, the Englewood station on West 63rd, the Finance Station U on East 58th, the Ogden Park station on South Ashland.
Many but not all closed stations would be replaced by what USPS calls “village post offices,” a cozy-sounding designation that means a counter in retail stores at which stamps would be sold and packages mailed. Other services such as passport applications would likely not be offered; rental of post office boxes would be offered by some, but not all, of these retail outlets.
Congressman Rush did not return my call by post time.
Photograph: Chicago Tribune