Severely cutting the retail window hours of 13,000 of the least-used post offices is a way for the U.S. Postal Service to address its serious funding shortage. But many Americans no doubt see it as the lesser of two evils.

The greater evil, at least to many of the rural and small-town residents who depend on those little outposts of mail and sociability, would be to shut them down completely.

The Postal Service, which gets no taxpayer money, went $5.1 billion in the red in fiscal year 2011 and lost $8.5 billion overall in 2011. This year, it’s on track to lose $15 billion. First-class mail deliveries have fallen 25 percent since 2006.

The part-time post offices would retain some of the advantages of the full-time operations: People still would have access to the retail lobby and post office boxes; a town’s ZIP code and community identity would remain intact.

The alternatives: curbside delivery, not now available in many small communities; service from a post office in a nearby community; or setting up a small Village Post Office in a local business. The existing post office would close if 60 percent of local residents want one of those alternatives.

A small-town post office can be a center of community life, where residents meet, exchange news and greetings. Even with the retail window closed, under the Postal Service’s plan the mailboxes would still be accessible and townspeople could still meet as they do now when picking up their mail.

Perhaps, with these cutbacks, the Postal Service can stanch its flow of red ink and stand on its feet again. There are millions of rural residents who would applaud that outcome.

– Omaha World-Herald,

Nebraska, Nov. 10