USPS Is Suspending Services Here Permanently, as of Feb. 28
When it comes to getting your mail delivered six days a week or stamps being the same price wherever you buy them, you have one thing to thank: the U.S. Postal Service’s (USPS) universal service obligation (USO). This requirement ensures that the agency provides regular mail service to everyone across the country—but in reality, that’s easier said than done. Despite this obligation, the USPS is allowed to adjust its operations when deemed necessary, like if a hurricane is racing toward the U.S. or a mail carrier’s safety is being jeopardized by an aggressive animal on the loose. Now, a different issue is set to impact the agency’s ability to provide certain resources, leaving some residents out of luck. Read on to find out where the USPS is permanently suspending services in February.
The Postal Service leases some facilities to contractors.
Your local post office might not actually be owned by the USPS. The agency offers Contract Postal Units (CPUs), which are supplier-owned or supplier-leased facilities that “provide postal products and services to the public.” According to the Post & Parcel, CPUs are typically placed in areas that may not have a physical USPS-owned post office branch.
“Placement of a CPU is driven by the need for additional Postal Service access points in a community,” the USPS explains on its website. “Local postal resources determine this need.”
But the stability of these contracted post offices have been a concern for some time. In 2012, Steve Hutkins, a retired English professor from New York and creator of SavethePostOffice.com, reported that contract post offices were closing at a faster rate than they were opening, with the number of CPUs having been steadily declining for some time.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the Postal Service is facing new trouble with contractors.
The agency is suspending one contracted service soon.
The issue with closing CPUs has continued over the last decade and now, a new set of customers are at risk.
On Nov. 7, the USPS issued a news release announcing that it will be suspending service at the post office in Big Sky, Montana, next year. This facility is a CPU, and the current provider has decided to terminate its contract with the Postal Service after recent negotiations. As a result, the agency said it “will be forced to close this CPU,” effective Feb. 28.
“In the case of this leased facility, the lessor has chosen not to renew the lease,” the USPS explained. “In order to minimize disruptions to our valued customers, local postal management will notify customers about the proposed closure and provide options for their mailing needs, which will meet our universal service obligation.”
Owners of the Big Sky Post Office say they need a bigger building.
The Postal Service said it offers CPUs around the U.S. “as a convenience to its customers,” like the one in Big Sky, and it “conducts regular discussions with contractors regarding service and terms” at these post offices. Since 2002, the Big Sky Post Office has been managed by the real estate firm Gallatin Partners, according to CBS-affiliate KBZK in Bozeman, Montana. The news outlet reported in late October that the firm and the USPS were currently locked in a battle over facility size.Al Malinowski, the Vice President of Gallatin Partners, told KBZK that when the post office moved into its current facility, it was half the square footage of what developers had originally planned. “We had a decision right there, we knew that our new post office back in 2002 was going to become outgrown sooner than if it was 4,000 square feet,” he said.
Gallatin Partners said it has reached out to the Postal Service multiple times to ask that the post office be moved into a bigger building. But a USPS corporate official told KBZK that based on its population, Big Sky does not need a bigger post office.
“We got nowhere with that request, and so it seemed like we were not going to progress unless a decision was made to stop operating the current facility,” Malinowski said. “We let them know that we are no longer willing to provide the service in this facility without a long-term plan in place to move to a larger facility that can better handle the needs of our community.”
Communities are left without post offices when contracted facilities close.
The USPS does not appear to be budging on its stance. In its news release, the postal agency said it is searching for an alternate provider in order to continue offering uninterrupted service to the Big Sky community. “The Postal Service is willing to work with local businesses in the area to explore viable options for another CPU,” the USPS said. “We recognize that with many of our resort offices, seasonal volumes and populations can be a challenge, however, it is our full intention to provide service at another, yet undetermined location. We do not anticipate any interruption to mail service.”
But if history is any indication, the future mailing needs of the Big Sky community might be more uncertain than the Postal Service is indicating. A CPU in Sigurd, Utah, closed in March 2020 after its contractor retired, and now more than two years later, residents are still without a post office. “When we solicited the community to operate a contract post unit in 2020, we didn’t receive a response,” USPS spokesman Rod Spurgeon told Fox 13 in July 2022.
This is not a problem limited to Montana or Utah either. In Alabama, the city of Spanish Fort has been without a post office since Jan. 2021 when the USPS opted not to renew the contract for the leased facility, according to AL.com. And back in March of this year, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) released a report indicating that the number of CPUs has declined from 2,022 in the 2019 fiscal year to 1,820 in the last fiscal year of 2021.
So within just two years, 202 contracted postal facilities have closed throughout the U.S.—and some communities have been left without a post office as a result.