Sept. 1, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

For Some, All Politics Is Postal

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Chris Van Hollen managed to stave off the closure of a post office just outside a senior citizen community in his Maryland district.

Having a post office nearby is serious business for residents of Leisure World, a 610-acre, private senior citizen community in Silver Spring, Md.

“You have to be at least 55 to live in the community,” said Barbara Cronin, chairwoman of the board that helps govern the community. “Seniors who moved here 20 years ago aren’t as active as they used to be.”

So when the post office at Leisure World Plaza — located just outside the complex and serviced by Leisure World buses — was put on the chopping block by the U.S. Postal Service, residents contacted Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). And on Feb. 9, he announced via press release that he had managed to stave off its closure.

“The closest post office is a few miles away in [Aspen Hill, Md.], but that would be difficult to get to if you don’t drive,” Cronin said. “It becomes a real-world issue.”

The Leisure World Plaza post office and others around the nation are not out of the woods yet as the Senate debates a bill this week to reform the USPS. The Postal Service has struggled financially in recent years as more people rely on paperless, electronic communications. The USPS — which is the second largest civilian employer after Walmart, with about 570,000 employees — projects a $14.1 billion net loss for fiscal 2012.

But the plan to close post offices around the country has run into some serious roadblocks. Lawmakers have sprung into action to help save their mail facilities, an important constituent service. And in Van Hollen’s case, those constituents included Leisure World’s 8,500 senior citizens, who are among the most reliable voting demographic in the country.

“We need to look at the post offices and how they are being used,” Van Hollen said. “Communities are in a good position to know how used their post offices are, and anyone who knows Leisure World in my district, knows that you have a senior population that does use postal services; they are still writing a lot of letters, so they rely on that post office.”

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) was more blunt: “This is ZIP code politics.” She is fighting to keep a mail-processing center open — and retain the jobs it provides — in Easton, Md., as part of the Senate debate this week.

But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he sees the efforts of Members to save their post offices as similar to when lawmakers oppose the closures of military bases.

“There are powerful forces lobbying against it,” said McCain, who opposes the Senate legislation. “This bill would be just a Band-Aid, not a fix.”

He supports a House GOP measure and has introduced the companion in the Senate.

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