U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp successfully added two amendments during the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee meeting, and voted to advance legislation to reform the United States Postal Service (USPS), return it to financial solvency, and protect rural service.
Heitkamp won support for a key amendment to make sure the Postal Service makes good decisions regarding rural service in regions such as North Dakota and treats postal customers throughout the nation fairly. She also wrote a number of key provisions which were included in the underlying legislation.
The Postal Reform package now moves to the Senate floor for consideration. The House of Representatives is also working on similar legislation.
"We were able to improve the postal reform legislation today by making my common-sense changes to enable the Postal Service to work better for North Dakotans," said Heitkamp. "The way the Postal Service operates right now is unacceptable. I'm working to make needed changes to improve mail delivery service for rural areas, while also enabling the Postal Service to improve its financial situation. This bill still has a long way to go and needs further improvement. As it moves to the full Senate, I'll continue fighting for better mail service in rural communities -- expressing the serious concerns that I've heard about throughout North Dakota. I encourage North Dakotans to continue to send me their stories about problems with mail service which I will pass along to the Postal Service."
Heitkamp, backed by other Senators on the Committee from rural states, won bipartisan passage of her amendment to improve oversight over USPS service changes. The amendment creates a new appeal process for processing plant closings and consolidations. If USPS seeks a delivery schedule change, such as ending Saturday mail delivery, it would have to comply with strong requirements to identify customers, communities and businesses that could suffer a disproportionate negative impact from changes and develop a mitigation strategy. The amendment also requires GAO to review the USPS mitigation efforts and provides Congress time to act if it feels a delivery schedule change is not warranted.
The Committee also adopted Heitkamp's amendment to develop a strategy to improve the USPS workforce, particularly in rural America. Heitkamp amended the mandate of the Strategic Advisory Commission to make sure it considers postal workforce issues and needs when developing a Postal Service innovation strategy.
Included in the underlying bill were a number of provisions authored by Sen. Heitkamp. She created new guidelines to strengthen protections for small businesses and communities when the Postal Service seeks a reduction in hours at community post offices. The bill also includes the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study that Heitkamp previously requested to examine the actual postal delivery times that postal customers experience when compared with delivery standards that USPS measures.
Heitkamp previously called on North Dakotans to share their stories as part of her Fix My Mail grassroots effort if they encountered extensive delivery times or had to deal with other problems with their postal service. Heitkamp has continually presented the stories to the USPS Postmaster General and the GAO. More than 100 North Dakotans have already submitted stories to Heitkamp.
"I will continue to personally press USPS leadership to improve postal service in North Dakota," Heitkamp said. "The legislation we advanced today provides important improvements and protections for rural service. But legislation is only part of the solution, to solve many of the North Dakota postal problems, we simply need better and wiser USPS management. I will continue to work with them and press them to respond to the postal challenges that too many North Dakotans are experiencing."
In January, Heitkamp brought USPS officials to western North Dakota to hear about the unique issues this part of the state is facing, and why it is important to address the area's postal service problems. Postal stakeholders and North Dakotans who experience USPS everyday got an opportunity to discuss their experiences and the next steps which need to be taken.
As Postal Reform moves forward, North Dakotans may still visit www.heitkamp.senate.gov. There, they can fill out a short form with their stories. No personal information will be shared with the USPS or GAO. North Dakotans can also post their stories on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #FixMyMail.