Possible Post Office Closures in the Bronx Would Threaten a Way of Life

The US Postal Service may close thousands of brick and mortar post offices by the end of the year as mail volume falls and an increasing number of people pay bills online.

And though the brick and mortar post office might be little used in many communities, many residents in the Bronx- where 17 are slated to close - the neighborhood post office is an essential resource.

In Hunts Point, Melrose and Morrisania, people rely on the post office as a place to pay bills and rent a stable address in the form of a P.O. Box.

Post offices there and in several other Bronx neighborhoods are on the list for possible closing. To some, the notion of the post office pulling down its flag and closing its doors feels like government abandoning neighborhoods that have long fought for survival.

Irene Josephs, 78, a retired domestic worker, said she visits the Hunts Point Post Office on Lafayette Avenue at least once a week. Like many low-income New Yorkers, she doesn't have a checking account and pays her bills using money orders. Her landlord requires the kind the post office sells.

“Some places don't want check cashing money orders, they want postal money orders,” Josephs said as she walked slowly across the post office parking lot one recent morning. “ConEd, rent, all my bills I pay here. It would be a real loss if they close this up. I don't know what I'd do.”

Julio Valdez, 34, owns a bodega on Union Avenue. On a recent morning he was at the post office helping his grandfather apply for a passport. He uses postal money orders to pay bills associated with the bodega and said licenses and fees to the City of New York have to be paid with postal money orders.

“That's why I come here,” Valdez said. “If I have pay something for the grocery store these money orders are more secure.”

(Photo: Julio Valdez, 34, bodega owner, applied for a passport at the post office and uses money orders to pay bills: "I don't know why they want to do that because we need this. I don't think it's fair."/Eileen Markey for WNYC)

Shuttering the Hunts Point Post Office makes Miquela Craytor angry. As executive director of Sustainable South Bronx she advocates for the neighborhood and pushes for environmentally friendly economic development in the area.

“It sends the wrong message to this community and others like it. It says that you don't matter, that you are not valued,” she said.

The Postal Service pulling out, she said, “reeks of the same sort of philosophy” of denial of government service and disinvestment that allowed the Bronx to collapse in the 1970s.

“We've all fought to move away from that,” Craytor said. “This is kind of like a slap in the face against that history and those stories and those efforts and the lives that have been dedicated to saying, 'No wait a second."

(Photo: Miquela Craytor, executive directorof Sustainable South Bronx, said closing the post office brings to mind the bad old days when government and private investment pulled out of the neighborhood./Eileen Markey for WNYC)

The Bronx is not unique in potentially losing a landmark government service.Brooklyn and Queens could each lose five post offices, Manhattan six and Staten Island one. As many as 3,700 post offices across the country are slated to close. Squeezed between conflicting mandates to serve everyone and also be self-supporting, the Postal Service is $9 billion in the red.

Without help from the federal government, permission to cut back on mail delivery to five days, raise rates or put off paying into its pension system, the USPS would have to stop delivering mail by next summer, Post Master General Patrick Donahoe told Congress September 6.

Post offices that operate at a loss or have only a small volume of sales and are within a mile or two of other post offices are slated to close (Read of list of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut post offices on the chopping block).  

Some of these would be replaced by self-service kiosks in drug stores or supermarkets, in some areas stamps and packages would be offered for sale in private stores, a spokeswoman for the USPS said.

USPS is also pushing customers to do their business online at usps.com. But many people in the Bronx don't have Internet at home.

For families struggling to pay rent and grocery bills, an online subscription is a luxury.

A study by the Pew Center for Internet and American Life last year found only 45 percent of households that make less than $30,000 a year have internet at home. Close to half of Bronxites - and an even larger number of people in the South Bronx - are below that threshold.

Julie Nieves, 50, a cook in a daycare center in Melrose who was ducking into the post office on Melrose Avenue and 160th Street with a bundle of packages near four o'clock on a recent afternoon said she visits the station three times a week.

“This is the only way we communicate for the people besides the telephone,” Nieves said.

Like many of her neighbors, Nieves rarely uses the Internet and doesn't have a connection at home. The post office is where she pays her rent, her utility bill, where she sends money to her sister and where she runs errands for her employer.

(Photo: Hunts Point residents fought for years to get a post office in their neighborhood. One opened in 2001. Now, because the Postal Service is losing money, it may close./Eileen Markey for WNYC)

“My job, they always send mails. They need it. It has to be on paper work. My boss sends a lot of packages,” she said.

The Obama administration said it would send Congress legislation that would “ensure a sustainable future for the postal service” in the next few weeks.

The administration has already said it will proposal legislation that will give the USPS an extra three months to make a $5.5 billion payment toward future pension costs.

A 2006 law requiring the USPS to set aside 75 years worth of pension costs for retirees in a 10-year window is contributing to the service's fiscal crisis.