WASHINGTON – The United States Senate passed a measure Tuesday that would allow post offices to generate extra income by issuing hunting and fishing licenses as well as Social Security cards.
Before the Senate voted on the amendment, which was attached to postal-reform legislation, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) suggested on the Senate floor that his bill could add as much money to the Postal Service’s coffers as its issuing of passports. He said the USPS accepted 5.6 million passport applications in 2011 and received hundreds of millions of dollars in income.
“We’re in good shape,” Bennet said in an interview before the vote. His measure passed on a voice vote.
In addition to giving post offices potentially new duties, the amendment would allow an unpaid advocate to represent rural communities whose post office is in danger of being closed. The advocate could appeal the decision by the Postal Regulatory Commission to shutter or consolidate the facility. Also, the amendment would allow post offices to supplement decennial census activities.
Supporters of Bennet’s amendment said the measure would help rural and isolated communities. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said the measure was a “good idea that would help small towns” in his rural state.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a co-sponsor of the amendment, said it “was virtually revenue neutral.” He suggested the bill’s unpaid-advocate provision would help rural communities deal with the spiritual blow of losing their post office. “This ensures that they will be represented in the decision to close a post office. You can’t just close a post office and say, ‘We’re done with you,’” Blunt said in an interview.
The Senate voted on a series of amendments Tuesday that would scale back the operations of the Postal Service, whose budget faces a projected shortfall over the next ten years of $238 billion. Closing and consolidating thousands of post offices and ceasing Saturday delivery have been among the proposals considered to close the deficit.
The House of Representatives has not voted on the postal reform legislation, but Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Fort Collins) released a letter he and 16 GOP colleagues sent Monday to congressional leaders in which they urged leadership to consider the needs of rural communities. The letter said the process to close or consolidate facilities should be “transparent” and “justifiable” and done so as to “provide the greatest savings and the least disruption possible.”