WASHINGTON -- Middle Georgia post offices could feel the pinch when the financially beleaguered U.S. Postal Service trims an estimated $3 billion in expenses.
The potential cuts include slower delivery times for first-class mail, possible post office closures near Macon and Columbus, the potential of a shuttered distribution center in Columbus and the elimination of roughly 28,000 jobs nationwide.
Post offices in the Georgia towns of Jacksonville, Scotland, Ideal, The Rock and Allentown are on a list of 3,700 facilities nationwide that will be studied for possible closure nationwide in an attempt to cut costs in an era of declining mail volume and a lingering economic downturn, according to the U.S. Postal Service.
“The facilities are still being studied and no official changes will be made until April at the earliest,” said Sue Brennan, a spokeswoman with the Postal Service.
The processing facility in Columbus is one of 250 processing centers nationwide, and one of 13 in Georgia, that are being studied for possible consolidation. The Postal Service is considering consolidating the Columbus Customer Service Mail Processing Center’s operations into the Montgomery, Ala., Processing and Distribution Center.
Moving the processing facility to Montgomery would add an extra day or two for mail delivery.
The post office closings have residents and postal workers in rural communities and those near postal hubs, including Macon and Columbus, crying foul, and the lawmakers who represent those communities are taking notice.
In September, about 30 postal workers gathered outside of Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland’s Newnan office as part of a nationwide rally to “Save America’s Postal Service,” according to the Newnan Times-Herald.
The changes would provide short-term relief but ultimately could prove counterproductive, pushing more of America’s business onto the Internet.
The cuts could slow everything from check payments to Netflix’s DVDs by mail, add costs to mail-order prescription drugs and threaten the existence of newspapers and time-sensitive magazines delivered by postal carrier to far-flung communities.
“It’s a potentially major change, but I don’t think consumers are focused on it, and it won’t register until the service goes away,” said Jim Corridore, an analyst with S&P Capital IQ, who tracks the shipping industry, to the Associated Press.
The Postal Service says first-class mail has dropped 25 percent and single piece first-class mail -- letters bearing postage stamps -- has declined 36 percent in the past five years, and nearly 50 percent in the past 10 years.
Currently, first-class mail is supposed to be delivered in one to three days within the continental United States. That will lengthen to two to three days. Periodicals could take two to nine days.
At a news briefing Monday, David Williams, vice president for the Postal Service’s network operations, said in certain narrow situations first-class mail might be delivered the next day -- if, for example, newspapers, magazines or other bulk mailers are able to meet new tighter deadlines and drop off shipments directly at the processing centers that remain open.
Closing some post offices would deeply affect residents in rural segments of the district Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, represents. Over the past year, Bishop, who sits on the House Appropriations committee, has met and spoken regularly with Postal Service officials, local employees and constituents who rely on those post offices.
Bishop, whose district is dotted by dozens of small towns, recently signed a letter with 81 other members of Congress urging a change in laws that make the post office pre-pay for retiree benefits.
“The Postal Service would still have positive net revenue today except for the requirement that it pre-fund 100 percent of employee retirement and retirement health costs, a requirement that Congress imposed on it in 2006,” the letter said.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, in a speech delivered last month at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., urged Congress to consider postal-reform legislation. Donahoe argued for using what he sees as a more flexible business model.
The Postal Service is an independent government agency, but it does not rely directly on taxpayer dollars.
In a news release, the Postal Service said it wants more flexibility to determine prices and delivery frequency, and to control health care and retirement costs.
The Associated Press and Halimah Abdullah of McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this report.