Last fall, the Postal Service announced plans to close 3,700 offices nationwide, but after hearing from affected customers, the decision was made this spring to instead trim retail hours.
Minimized hours at 13,000 locations are set to phase in by September 2014, as USPS struggles to recoup billion dollar losses.
The Postal Service's latest financial report, filed in late September, shows a loss of $14.3 billion so far this fiscal year. Losses have been compounded by 25 percent less mail volume and 200 fewer retail visits during the past five years, as delivery points increase annually by one million.
"People aren't visiting the traditional brick-and-mortar post offices as much as they used to," USPS Spokesman Richard Watkins told the Pilot-Tribune. "For the most part, they are finding it more convenient to buy stamps and other services at grocery stores, pharmacies or online."
On the heels of major deficit, the Postal Service defaulted on a $5.6 billion payment to the U.S. Treasury for future retirees' health payments, the second such non-payment in two months.
Cutting back hours at 40 percent of its offices is expected to save $500 million, but more needs to be done to restore USPS' financial standing.
"By no means are small, rural post offices the one solution that will bring financial stability back to the post office," Watkins explained. "That will require concerted effort from all our operations, but we are doing everything we can operationally, that we have control over, to cut costs while maintaining services."
Changing from six-day to five-day delivery would save the Postal Service an estimated $2.7 billion per year, but would require a change in law.
"Independent surveys have shown both residential and business mailers prefer going to five-day delivery, by nearly 70 percent, versus more drastic measures, such as closing post offices or raising prices of postage," Watkins said. "We are hoping Congress will give us flexibility, particularly as customers continue to change how they use the Postal Service. We simply have to change from a twentieth century postal system to something that is more flexible and nimble---to do otherwise is not responsible on our part."
Although the Senate passed a bill in April that would have provided temporary financial relief, reducing annual health payments while providing a $11 billion refund for USPS' overpayment to the federal pension fund, the House remains deadlocked over a bill that would immediately end Saturday delivery.
Under the Postal Service's plan, Rembrandt will receive the biggest cutbacks, transitioning from eight to two retail hours per day. Linn Grove and Marathon will lose four retail hours, while both Nemaha and Truesdale will lose two retail hours.
Hour reductions were based on workload and customer need, Watkins said.
While customers of reduced-hour offices will have less access to Postal Service employees to purchase stamps or mail packages, access to P.O. Boxes will remain unchanged.
Besides its 32,000 retail post offices and online services, the Postal Service offers 70,000 alternative locations, something rural customers appear to support.
According to a survey conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation in February, 46 percent of rural customers prefer additional services, such as village post offices and expanded rural delivery.
While not every small community is a candidate for a village post office, those that are should explore the possibility, Watkins said.
Since last August, more than 50 village post offices have been opened across the U.S. Often hosted by pharmacies, grocery/convenience stores or libraries, these alternative post offices offering expanded hours and popular USPS services, with some even accommodating PO Boxes.
In order to gain additional feedback regarding reduced hours and potential expansion of alternative services, hundreds of community input meetings have been tentatively scheduled this month across the state. Meetings have not yet been announced for the five Buena Vista County post offices, but USPS continues to update its list at about.usps.com/news/electronic-press-kits/our-future-network/post-plan.htm