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Franken: Mail cuts hurt businesses, families

Shuttering post offices and mail processing centers across Minnesota, including the sorting center in Bemidji, could lead to the end of the U.S. Postal Service, Sen. Al Franken said Thursday.

The Minnesota Democrat, on a conference call with reporters, said closing 117 post offices and five mail sorting facilities could be devastating to customers, businesses and Postal Service employees.

"I don't want that," Franken said. "If these closures take place, there will be deep implications for businesses and families in Minnesota."

He warned the changes will force more postal customers to do business online, signaling "the beginning of the end."

Franken and 26 other U.S. senators want changes to a current Senate bill to reform and modernize the U.S. Postal Service.

A bill sponsored by Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Scott Brown, R-Mass., addresses the Postal Service's pension plan, health care and delivery schedule.

However, Franken said the bill doesn't do enough to keep rural post offices and sorting centers open. Several senators, he said, want standard one- to three-day delivery.

Last week, the Postal Service said five Minnesota sorting centers will close after May 15. In Bemidji, the decision affects six workers.

And local customers can expect delays with no overnight delivery to Bemidji area addresses. Mail would be sent to the Twin Cities for sorting before it returns to Bemidji.

Statewide, the closures impact about 200 postal employees.

The Postal Service said it experienced a 25 percent decline in first-class mail volume since 2006. More than 260 mail processing centers will be closed to stem projected losses of more than $18 billion annually by 2015 unless Congress allows elimination of Saturday delivery and a postage stamp increase of 5 cents.

"This is an uphill battle," said Franken in describing efforts to prevent cuts to rural post offices and sorting centers.

Reed Anfinson, president of the National Newspaper Association and publisher of the Swift County Monitor News in Benson, Minn., said the NNA realizes the Postal Service is "facing a huge financial threat." However, reliable postal service is paramount to the community newspapers and other businesses.

Newspapers are particularly interested in Postal Service cuts because they provide valuable, timely and detailed information for readers.

"Newspapers are instrumental in informing (the public)," said Anfinson, adding he "completely disagrees" the cuts won't present significant impacts to postal service.

"They aren't close to meeting the standards now," he said.

Franken and Anfinson said postal cuts could prompt more people to pay bills and conduct personal business online, further reducing the Postal Service's relevance.

"We have to think outside the box," the senator said. "We also have to remember our values and what makes sense."

Franken said post offices serve as community gathering places and in rural areas, often serve as a way for people to obtain prescriptions without having to drive long distances to a pharmacy.

Lake George, Hines, Squaw Lake, Lengby, Naytahwaush and Ponsford are among the area post offices that could close unless Congress acts on the Postal Service's realignment plan.

The Bemidji Post Office would retain its hours and services, but lose the mail sorting facility and overnight delivery.

Some fear that could eventually lead to unreliable postal service and the community's ability to attract businesses.

"It doesn't make sense for businesses to not come to Bemidji," said Franken, adding businesses want reliable mail service.