Fresh Ideas by Abby Johnson: U.S. should continue essential services

"The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves in their separate, and individual capacities." - Abraham Lincoln

The U.S. Postal Service announced in August that more than 3,000 post offices may close. For rural locations, distance from other post offices and services is a factor. Baker is one of 15 mostly rural towns in Nevada on the list "due to declining office workload." Baker's post office box holders (everyone, since there is no delivery to street addresses) are offered boxes in Ely, 76 miles one way.

"While there are some areas where postal services could be consolidated ... this simply is not an option in many rural and remote areas," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, wrote in the Washington Post. It is no surprise that a rural post office like Baker may not pencil out, even with the traffic from visitors to Great Basin National Park.

There are a number of troubling issues in closing rural post offices whose patrons do not have practical access to another post office. The notice to Baker patrons explained that "many customers demand easier, more convenient access to Postal Service products and services when and where they want them - online, on their smartphones and at the stores they frequent." Suburban Maryland, yes; rural America, no. Most Baker residents access the Internet, but Baker lacks cellphone coverage. Stores and shopping? Infrequent. Justifying the closure of rural post offices based on emerging modern technology does not work; rural areas are the last to be served. Consistent postal delivery is a necessity for residents to receive medications, for the disabled, for all registered voters (Baker is a mail-in precinct), and for local and Internet-based businesses to function. Baker customers' demands are simple: Deliver the mail in the town of Baker several times a week.

If you think this a crisis only for very rural areas, think again. The Postal Service is also proposing to close and eliminate jobs at processing centers in Reno and Elko. The likely journey of a letter mailed from Carson to Reno will involve a round trip to California over the Sierra Nevada for sorting. Add an extra day or two for delivery.

The problem is that the Postal Service, a basic government service function, tries to operate like a business. Postal Service cuts are not unexpected given the decrease in volume and increasing costs. Jettisoning customers who don't pay their way is a hallmark of business. Providing essential service to everyone in an equitable and reasonable method should be "the legitimate object of government" for the Postal Service.

• Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker, Nev. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.


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