Begich Secures Major Fixes to Postal Service Problems in Alaska

Parcel post rate increases canceled, rural post offices protected, staffing and delivery issues addressed

After a face-to-face meeting today with the Postmaster General and committee passage earlier in the day of a major postal reform bill, U.S. Senator Mark Begich announced a rate-hike reversal and significant progress on a multitude of other Postal Service problems in Alaska.

“I’ve been hearing about problems with mail from communities across Alaska and today I made it very clear that I want fixes—and fast,” Begich said. “Alaskans were blindsided by the recent decision by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to increase rates on parcel post packages.  Today I convinced the Postmaster General to roll back rate increases for Alaskans who are off the road system and shipping or receiving large packages. Alaskans should see relief from soaring postal costs by next week.”

In addition to the meeting with U.S. Postal Service Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, Begich used his seat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to push through legislation fixing many postal problems reported by Alaskans.  These fixes are a direct response to dozens of complaints about the Postal Service’s failures Begich’s office received in recent weeks, including the unreasonable rate increases for parcel posts, mail delays, understaffing at post offices and uncertainty surrounding post office closures.  The senator outlined those issues in a letter to Donahoe last week.

During his meeting with the Postmaster General and in the Postal Reform Act that passed out of committee today, Begich secured fixes on a number of key issues:

Standard Post Packages in Rural Areas – Begich passed an amendment to the postal bill to roll back rates on standard post shipments destined for rural Alaska communities, specifically those inaccessible by a road system. Then he received a commitment later in the day from the Postmaster General that the Postal Service would undo the recent rate increase for packages to rural Alaska as soon as next week.  Begich’s amendment would freeze rates at last year’s level while the Postal Regulatory Commission studies whether the Postal Service has a monopoly on package shipments in rural areas.  Based on the findings of the study, the amendment would prevent the Postal Service from excessively increasing rates like it did last week ever again. 

Ketchikan Mail Processing – Begich also convinced the Postmaster General to allow the Ketchikan Post Office to start processing mail again.  Currently, mail originating in and destined for Ketchikan is being sent up to Juneau for processing and then back down to Ketchikan, which is causing unnecessary delays.  The Postmaster General committed to processing Ketchikan-area mail in Ketchikan.

Alcohol Shipping – Begich also secured an amendment to the postal reform bill to ensure the Postal Service respects state, local and tribal laws when it comes to shipping alcohol.  The postal reform bill would allow the Postal Service to start shipping alcohol, so Begich wanted to make sure it respected the laws of dry communities

Protecting Rural Post Offices – Begich also sponsored an amendment introduced by Sen. Claire McCaskill to impose a one-year moratorium on the closure on any rural post office, station or branch, including those in places like Douglas and Auke Bay.  The protection goes even further because the amendment also includes certain requirements before the Postal Service can reduce hours or shut down a post office, station or branch once the moratorium passes.  The Postal Service would be required to allow customers the opportunity to publicly meet and discuss possible changes.  In addition it would only allow the Postal Service to eliminate a post office if the Postal Service determines that:

Bypass Mail – Begich secured a commitment from the Postmaster General that the Postal Service would add additional daily flights for Bypass mail between Togiak and Quinhagak to speed up the delivery of Bypass mail.  The bill that passed out of committee today also fully protects the Bypass mail program.

“As a lifelong Alaskan, I know it’s difficult for outsiders to comprehend importance of mail service for Alaska communities,” said Begich.  “That’s why I made sure Postmaster Donahoe knows the rate increases and service failures present a real hardship to Alaskans—especially those in rural communities.   The bottom line is that the Postal Service needs to step up, fix the problems, and make sure that Alaskans have reliable mail service.  After today’s meeting, I feel confident we will see positive changes.”