Postmaster General pauses plan to consolidate mail processing facilities

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May 17—United States Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced this week that he is pausing a plan to consolidate processing facilities, which would move outgoing mail operations from Champaign, where Effingham mail is processed, to the Chicago area.

The plan, which includes processing facilities throughout the U.S., received pushback from U.S. lawmakers over concerns that it could lead to delivery delays. Under the plan, the Mattis Avenue facility in Champaign would transfer outgoing mail processing to facilities in the Chicago suburbs of Bedford Park and Forest Park.

USPS, however, maintains the changes would not negatively impact delivery times, including in Effingham County.

"Service standards for the area are not expected to change," USPS spokesman for Illinois Districts Tim Norman told the Daily News.

Postal workers disagree.

The Champaign News-Gazette reported that Brian Cunningham, president of the local American Postal Workers Union chapter there, expects the change to add a day or two to processing times. He told the News-Gazette in March that under the current system, mail is picked up from homes or dropped off at post offices, transferred to the Mattis Avenue plant, and processed in the evening. From there, outgoing mail is processed and shipped out at night. Local mail is usually processed at the end of the next day and delivered within one or two days of when it was dropped off, he told the News-Gazette. The exception is packages, which he said are usually delivered overnight.

Postal workers have called on Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to intervene. According to the News-Gazette, they filed a complaint with his office, the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, and DeJoy for "harming postal workers and delaying the mail."

In a letter to DeJoy in March, U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, along with U.S. representatives from Illinois, urged him to reconsider his decision to eliminate mail processing at Processing and Distribution Centers not in only in Champaign but Peoria, Milan and Springfield, saying it would exacerbate already delayed mail delivery.

"Illinois districts 1 and 2 have some of the worst on-time delivery rates in the country," they noted in the letter. The districts include Effingham and surrounding counties.

"Each year, the 'Delivering for America' plan delivers less mail volume, worse delivery times, and additional costs for the postal service," the lawmakers wrote.

The lawmakers asserted that the plan neglected to provide adequate data showing that downsizing facilities in Illinois would improve delivery times. They also noted that some Illinoisans rely on the USPS to receive medications and Social Security checks.

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza released a statement calling the plan to move the Springfield Post Office distribution operations to St. Louis "ill-advised," adding it leaves the state capital without a distribution center for state payments. Mendoza said her office sends out about 11,000 checks a day to locations around the state.

"I am not convinced reducing the job of the Springfield Post Office and sending mail out of state, only to be sent back to addresses in Illinois, will be more efficient. Regrettably, the opposite is more likely to be true," she said. "How can anyone argue with a straight face that sending our mail — two-thirds of which is bound for Northern Illinois — 100 miles south to St. Louis before it can be shipped back north again will not delay delivery to Illinois residents?"

U.S. Rep. Nikki Budzinski, D-IL 13, introduced a bipartisan bill to halt the consolidations in April. The bill bars USPS from considering a plan in regions that aren't meeting USPS delivery targets of at least 93% on-time delivery rate for two-day single first-class mail and at least 90.3% on-time delivery rate for three-to-five-day first-class mail. Budzinski noted that Downstate Illinois currently experiences a 64.2% on-time delivery rate for three-to-five-day delivery options and an 84.7% on-time delivery rate for two-day mail.

The plan for the Campaign Processing and Distribution Center, which USPS decided to move forward with late last month before the pause was announced, is to modernize the facility as a local processing center. The plan transfers"mail processing outgoing operations" to either of the Chicago suburb facilities. The move is estimated to save USPS between $2.7 million and $3.5 million annually.

In a response letter to U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-MI, DeJoy agreed to pause the planned mail consolidations throughout the U.S. that are part of the "network modernization" changes until January 2025. His response was in answer to a letter of concern by Peters and another bipartisan group of 25 senators. USPS is undertaking nearly 60 mail processing facility reviews out of 427 processing plants.

"These reviews are primarily considering whether to move originating volume to fewer regional plants to create consistency, precision and efficiency," DeJoy wrote. "These reviews will also achieve vitally necessary cost savings, most of which would be achieved from reduced transportation."

DeJoy also noted the proposed changes would not result in career layoffs.

Cathy Griffith can be reached at cathy.griffith@effinghamdailynews.com or 618-510-9180.