The Postal Service, reeling from its failure Wednesday to make a $5.5 billion payment toward employee benefits, continues to move ahead with plans to cut hours at more than 13,000 rural post offices.
The proposed reductions are poised to strike the deepest blows in rural areas, many lacking broadband Internet and reliable cellphone service - places where businesses depend on the mail and residents use the mail to receive everything from prescriptions to correspondence.
"In a way, the communities who need and use the post office the most are being hurt the most," said Evan Kalish, who blogs about at-risk and rural postal outposts.
A USA TODAY analysis shows the cuts would strike a line through Appalachia. The states with counties that have the highest concentration of affected offices are on the Appalachian Trail: Maine, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont and West Virginia.
In some West and Plains states - Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas and Alaska - more than 60% of offices are on the block for reductions, as counter service drops to six, four or two hours a day. Most urban areas are not slated to be affected.
Included in the plans:
•In Westmoreland County, Pa., 50 post offices - the most of any single county - could see hours cut. County Commissioner Tyler Courtney said that as residents move from former steel-producing centers toward Pittsburgh, some cuts were necessary, but the extent may worry residents. "Some of them are going to come as a real shock to ... the elderly and aging population," he said.
•West Virginia's McDowell County will see the most post offices - 13 - drop to just two hours a day. Another 14 post offices in the former coal-mining center will operate four hours a day.
•In South and North Dakota, about three-quarters of all post offices are on the proposed cutback list.
Mark Schumacher makes boots and saddles in Wolsey, S.D., and uses a post office across the street to get his products to customers. It is one of four post offices in Beadle County (population 17,500) slated for cutbacks, with counter service dropping to four hours a day. "That's a pretty small window for me to get things done," he said.
The proposed cuts, which affect more than 42% of the Postal Service's nearly 31,000 offices and branches, were a relief for some. Last year, the service proposed closing 3,700 post offices. The "newest Postal Service plan appears to be welcome news for southern West Virginia," said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., when the plan was announced in May. "However, cutting back the hours ... is no small matter."
The Postal Service says cuts are needed to match customer use and to save $500 million a year. The Postal Service's net loss was $5.1 billion in 2011. "The financial state of the Postal Service is one of the reasons why (the plan to cut services) is moving forward," spokeswoman Sue Brennan said. The service expects all changes to be made by September 2014.