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Possible Postal Shutdown Threatens Fort Berthold Reservation

A column by Theodora Bird Bear on the consequences for the Fort Berthold Reservation if the local post office closes.

Dear ICT Editor:

The Mandaree post office serves over 800 tribal members residing throughout this very rural, isolated area of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in western North Dakota. Further, the Mandaree population is also increasing. However, the U.S. Postal Service wants to permanently close the Mandaree post office as a part of its' national budget restructuring.

Some Mandaree residents don't have e-mail or Internet access. The only way to get time-sensitive mail like bills, legal documents, prescription drugs, and other important and necessary mail is through the local Mandaree post office. Also, the Mandaree elementary and high school relies of our local post office for mailings to parents in the school district throughout the year.

Under the US Postal Service's proposed plan, Mandaree residents were told to drive to nearby towns for needed mailboxes. For some, this will require a 120-mile round trip to get to the mail. Others will have to travel 80-plus miles round trip for mail services.

Mandaree residents are expected to take on unreasonable costs to receive the same mail services that others will receive as a part of public service. This is unfair and contrary to the mandatory USPS "universal service obligation."

I called the post offices of the towns closest to Mandaree. Neither had available mailboxes for rent - and one post office already had a "waiting list" for their own local residents.

Nationally, the USPS has selected over 3,500 small and rural post offices for permanent closing in the next few months. However, closing these little post offices will only save seven-tenths of 1 percent of the national USPS budget.

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The real story behind this manufactured USPS crisis remains hidden from the American public. For years, Congress has acquiesced to powerful, commercial interests looking for ways to undercut the critical public service that the USPS has historically provided so that the complete privatization of all mail services will occur.

Since the mid-1980's, the US Postal System had been the only unfunded federal agency. This means it had been self-supporting for about twenty years - and was not subsidized by American taxpayers. In other words, it's services were needed and it made a profit.

However, in 2006, Congress required the USPS to pre-pay $75 billion in retirement benefits within just ten years - and still make a profit each year. No other federal agency is required to do this. The US Postal System is still saddled with this annual $5 billion dollar pre-payment requirement today.

The USPS management has made its mistakes, too. Right now, there's a USPS $6.9 billion overpayment of retirement benefits. But Congress refuses to let the postal service apply this to its budget crisis.

Hence, the manufactured USPS budget "crisis" - with Congress and the Obama Administration failing to address the real issues surrounding the needed public service provided by the US Postal System.

Instead, Mandaree tribal members - and many other vulnerable, little communities in the US - will be permanently and unnecessarily harmed by closing the critically-needed rural post offices.

This will only be the beginning. If the entire US postal service is eliminated, all Americans who need mail services will be at the mercy of a commercial mail service driven by profit - and not by public service.

Theodora Bird Bear is an enrolled tribal member of the Three Affiliated Tribes, a long-term Mandaree resident, and a postal patron of the Mandaree post office.