Holidays highlight the value of rural U.S. Post Offices
By Molly Moser
With the holiday season upon us, many will find their mailboxes fuller than usual. Cards, letters, and packages containing the perfect gift for someone special pass through the hands of careful postal workers to safely reach our homes. Our dependence on the United States Postal Service begs the question – Where would we be without them?
Though closing is a very real threat for many post offices in rural areas, Guttenberg Postmaster Nancy Ungs doesn’t expect it’s something the city will have to deal with anytime soon. “We’re the largest city in the county, so I don’t see that happening as long as revenue stays up.” Guttenberg’s post office is currently a level 18 office. If it were to drop a level, window hours would be reduced but the office would remain.
The USPS owns approximately 8,000 post offices and leases another 25,000. The building that houses Guttenberg’s post office is one of 12 in the state owned by Governor Terry Branstad.
An organization known as the Association of U.S. Postal Lessors (AUSPL) states that some 90% of all post offices in rural America are leased, and that rural post offices are most vulnerable. AUSPL is making a concerted effort to communicate with Congressional members in rural America, where the Post Office network is critical.
“I think it's a vital part of the community. It always has been, and I hope it will continue to be,” says Ungs. “It connects people with their families. Families are so spread out now. They can email, but it’s not the same as a card from grandma or a care package.” Ungs lists among the reasons the Post Office is essential, “The elderly that can’t leave home love receiving packages, and many of them receive prescriptions by mail.”
As part of its efforts to support offices in rural areas, AUSPL is asking for feedback on the following questions, as listed by The Licking News of Licking, Mo.
1. What is the value of the post office to your community?
2. What are the likely economic effects of closing your post office?
3. What are the likely social effects of closing your post office?
The Guttenberg Post Office serves 1400 rural customers, including citizens of Guttenberg, Garber, and into Dubuque County. A carrier from Guttenberg also completes half of the Garnavillo route. Currently, the Guttenberg office is looking for a rural carrier substitute.
The USPS anticipates delivering 420 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, and plans to hire 8,000 to 10,000 seasonal workers to help deliver it all. “We have seen an increase in packages with online shopping,” says Ungs. “It helps offset the loss of first class letters.”
As she’s speaking, a UPS employee walks in. “The UPS just dropped off a ton of packages,” Ungs says, explaining that collaboration with competitors FedEx and UPS helps both parties. “We go to every address every day, and they don’t want to.” Last month, the USPS got a new deal with Amazon for Sunday deliveries. The Sunday service will launch in Los Angeles and New York first, but Ungs doesn’t foresee that service reaching Guttenberg.
Guttenberg Mayor Russ Loven states, “The post office is tied to community identity – we are Guttenberg, Iowa 52052. The more rural a community, the more important the post office is as a gathering place central to a community’s social and cultural life. It is a connecting link between people in the community.”