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Dear John for Rural P.O.s

There it was on the bulletin board – right next to the ham ball supper poster, just below the lost dog flyer, and beside the missing persons bulletin: Notice of Proposed Closure.

The post office in Pilot Mound, Iowa, is one of three post offices in my seven-town school district under review.

The U.S. Postal Service reported a $3.1 billion loss in the third quarter. As a result, 3,700 U.S. post offices are on the chopping block, with a potential loss of up to 35,000 jobs. Most offices generate less than $27,500 in annual revenue.

Rural towns have been buffeted for decades by the straight-line winds of loss and consolidation that have swept away businesses, services, and schools. It appears that the local post office is next.

I attended the recent public meeting, along with about 70 other people in Pilot Mound, to discuss shifting postal services to a town 14 miles away, a round trip of 28 miles.

The postal representative assured us that rural America is not suffering the brunt of these closures. After all, urban post offices are being closed, too.

One resident raised his hand and asked if urban residents had bus service to the nearest post office. Well, yes, of course, she conceded. So maybe it would be harder on rural America after all?

The shortfall is tied to plummeting mail volume, a weak economy, and mounting retiree health and pension benefits. I understand the first two factors. The third is the result of a 2006 federal law requiring the U.S. Postal Service to prefund retiree benefits. To date, the post office has overpaid $7 billion into the retirement system.

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