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W.Va. senators want changes to postal bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., got behind amendments to U.S. Postal Service reform legislation on Wednesday to make sure that 3,700 post offices being considered for closure -- including 150 in West Virginia -- remain open for at least two years.

"The Postal Service is one of the things our people truly care about," Manchin said. "They want their post offices to stay open.

"Private companies won't step in if the government leaves, and that will simply disconnect our rural communities from the rest of this great nation. In our rural towns, the Postal Service is about much more than a place to send and receive mail."

Manchin introduced an amendment to keep the rural post offices open for at least two years. Rockefeller co-sponsored a similar amendment.

"Our postal facilities are the centerpieces of our communities," Manchin said, "places where people gather and share important information."

On Wednesday evening, Rockefeller said he had introduced an amendment that would keep current Postal Service workers from losing their existing or future retiree health-care benefits. According to a news release from Rockefeller's office, the current bill would allow the Postal Service to withdraw employees from its health-care plan without ensuring they would get comparable benefits.

Rockefeller also introduced an amendment to keep the Postal Service from changing current benefits for retirees -- specifically, from shifting those retirees onto Medicare.

The USPS is trying to find ways to save money. It's already $12 billion in debt, according to The Associated Press, and forecasts losses of $14.1 billion this year.

"The Postal Service continues to slash jobs and hurt West Virginia communities through postal closing and consolidations," Rockefeller said.  "And West Virginia continues to face disproportionate closures compared to other, much larger states.

Manchin wants the USPS to consider other cost-saving measures, including eliminating excessive bonuses for USPS executives, getting rid of retail space the Postal Service is not using and ending advertising expenditures on "luxuries" such as sponsoring a NASCAR team and the U.S. Tour de France bicycle team.

Rockefeller also co-sponsored an amendment that would keep Postal Service executives from receiving bonuses until the USPS pays its debts and "faces its financial difficulties."

The proposal to close 3,700 rural post offices, Manchin said, would save $200 million a year.

"But that's less than 1 percent of the Postal Service's $20 billion and is roughly equivalent to the amount we spend in one day in Afghanistan," he said. "While that does very little to improve the Postal Service's bottom line, it would devastate our rural towns."

Manchin said he offered his amendment because he heard from hundreds of constituents that "we simply cannot afford to let these facilities close in the communities that need them the most."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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