Rural villages depend greatly on post offices

Rep. Alan Dick

Rural Alaskans far from roads, stores, medical and other services, who live in small villages spend more money per capita in the post office system than most other Alaskans. We have no alternatives to receiving medications, vehicle or airplane parts, animal feed and other necessities. Most rural Alaskans are familiar with the routine of shopping in a hub community and mailing to the village from hub post offices. Families spend several thousand dollars a year on postal service, far above the national average. While we lack economy of scale, we are, per capita, the best post office customers in the nation.

As the Postal Regulatory Commission reviews a proposal to close rural post offices, it is important for the Commission and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to understand the impact of removing this basic service. Without a post office, people will be forced to leave their homes, villages will die and millions of dollars of existing federal and state infrastructure will be abandoned.

Post offices are so important, they were recognized by the founding fathers as one of the basic functions of the federal government. The USPS has a constitutional obligation to serve all Americans including Alaska's village residents. Rural post offices in the U.S. represent 0.7 percent of the total postal budget. If all rural post offices in the U.S. were closed, it wouldn't touch the financial problem facing the USPS. We understand that the USPS faces the same financial difficulties as many states and large corporations -- heavy pension and health care benefit costs and declining revenues to pay for them. However, our part in the problem or possible solution is so small it is miniscule.

Post offices are the politically neutral hub of all village activity. Important public notices, like airport runway contracts, are posted by law in the post office. Postmasters are often the only notary publics for important documents.

Valuable local products like gold and furs are shipped priority and registered mail. Many small businesses would cease immediately if the post office closed.

The postal service is the focal point of all other village services. Air taxis build their businesses around the consistency of the postal service. Without postal service, several air taxis will close or radically change services. Even expensive alternatives will not be available.

Elders need reliable delivery of medications or they will have to move to town. This will further break social stability in unstable communities. Many elders don't have a bank account. They use the post office and money orders to pay all bills. Closing the post office would be devastating for them.

Schools and clinics rely on postal service for supplies. Special education and other itinerant teachers travel by scheduled mail planes. It is already difficult to recruit and retain good teachers to serve in the Alaskan bush.

Many of the threatened village post offices are on "milk runs." Other post offices on those runs will be more expensive to serve if one village is removed from the run. The plane will fly the same amount of miles but with less revenue.

If local businesses were to become private contractors of mail, the safety that accompanies mail service will be completely sacrificed. No other Americans live without the security of mail service for personal and commercial interests.

Alaskan bush mail service is basic. No one hand-delivers mail to boxes in front of houses. All we ask for is the minimum provided to all other Americans.

Rep. Alan Dick, R-Stony River, represents District 6 in the state House of Representatives. Seventeen of 36 potential Alaska post office closures are in his district.