Small towns and rural areas may soon get more attention from the U.S. Postal Service, following several years of post office and mail sorting facility closings. The Senate Appropriations Committee this week ordered new examination of the on-time arrival of mail outside urban areas. National Newspaper Association President John Edgecombe Jr., publisher of The Nebraska Signal in Geneva, NE, said the new requirement resulted from NNA's work to improve rural mail service. He expressed NNA's thanks to Sen. Roy Blunt, R-MO, for being the champion of a new rural mail service measurement.

Blunt said, "Rural mail delivery has been increasingly strained in recent years, especially with additional mail processing center closures in my state. Many rural Missourians have experienced delayed mail, and it is a problem that needs to be addressed. I am pleased the Appropriations Committee included my language directing the Postal Service and Postal Regulatory Commission to work together to create a measurement to determine rural mail delivery times. With the U.S. Postal Service expressing support for this language, this is a constructive step forward to address the ongoing challenges facing rural mail service."

"NNA always works for the benefit of smaller communities in the U.S., and we know that mail is particularly important to our towns. Since 2011 when mail processing facilities began to close, most of us community newspaper people have seen deterioration in the quality of service. But current USPS mail service studies do not specifically look at rural mail. We asked in March that the Postal Regulatory Commission work out a study on rural and small town mail. Now we are gratified that the Senate Appropriations Committee is going to require it," Edgecombe said. The Postal Service regularly gathers data on the time elapsed from the entry of a mail piece into its system to the arrival at the mail's destination. Reports of on-time delivery as measured against a stated service standard are provided through the PRC's website. Information comes from a variety of USPS systems, including reports from in-home mail monitors working through a Postal Service contractor.

"We believe the Postal Service is sensitive to the need for a separate measurement of rural mail," NNA Chief Executive Officer Tonda F. Rush said. "The changes in the service network since the Great Recession have disproportionately diminished service to small towns, simply because they are now further away from mail processing plants and their mail has to travel further. We have been discussing this problem with Postmaster General Megan Brennan, who offered her increased attention to this problem. Her support for Blunt's amendment was critical."

The language in the Financial Services and General Government appropriation bill for 2016 is:

The committee directs the Postal Regulatory Commission and Postal Service to work together to expand the methodology to report mail delivery performance to specifically include mail delivery from rural towns to other rural towns; from rural towns to urban areas; and from urban areas to rural towns. The committee requests this methodology within 60 days of enactment of the Act, with a subsequent report on the data gathered using this methodology to be provided to the Committee no later than March 1, 2016.

Enactment of the requirement depends upon passage of the overall bill by the Senate and House. However, Rush said she believed the study would begin even without the final passage of the legislation.

"NNA is looking forward to seeing the Postal Service progress on this study," Edgecombe said. "We appreciate Postmaster General Brennan's openness to taking on this important measurement. Under the maxim, 'what gets measured gets done,' we think once the numbers are run on the rural areas, the Postal Service will have the tools to improve the service."