Residents of Paint Lick do not like to dwell on what’s been lost: the grocery shops, the gas station, the barbershop, the regional bank, and numerous residents who have moved away or died.
Rather, in this rural Appalachian town in Garrard County suffering decades of small business loss, residents have championed an attitude that is develop into anything of a civic slogan: “Press on regardless,” in the words of a extended-departed regional leader, Dean Cornett.
What presses on are the couple of institutions that stay: a doctor’s workplace, an environmental consultancy, an auto mechanic, and what could be the most significant institution of all—the post workplace.
“The mail is just essential to people out in a rural neighborhood,” stated Joe Brown, a lifelong resident of Paint Lick.
But Paint Lick’s post workplace is struggling. It is now open just two hours a day for retail, and rumors have been swirling for years it will close. Brown stated he’s thankful the post workplace is nonetheless open at all.
Kentucky’s rural post offices are threatened. More than the final decade, additional post offices have been closed in Kentucky than in any other state, according to information from the U.S. Postal Service. Closures have hit each area, from coal towns in Appalachia to villages in the open fields of the Jackson Obtain.
What’s lost is a beloved institution and final public commons in communities with couple of if any public spaces left.
“The post workplace is a gathering spot. It is a hub for regional information and facts exchange,” stated Ken Tunnell, a Paint Lick resident and sociologist who taught at Eastern Kentucky University.
Most of the Kentucky towns that have lost a post workplace are rural, unincorporated, and losing individuals. Disproportionately poor and elderly, they’re areas exactly where essential solutions are currently tricky to access and exactly where higher-paying jobs can be really hard to obtain.
For years, conservative policymakers have targeted rural mail delivery for privatization, restructuring, or downsizing. The fight ramped up final month when U.S. Sen. Rand Paul stated the Postal Service need to save revenue by slashing jobs and minimizing rural delivery. President Donald Trump has opposed an emergency USPS bailout and efforts to expand mail-balloting in the November election.
Rural Kentuckians are paying interest. The USPS delivers mail to each address in the state, offering prescription medicine, Social Safety Checks, and correspondence to the most remote residences not reached by private carriers.
Mail delays can be unsafe. Brown, 74, is an Army veteran who relies on the U.S. Postal Service to provide medication. This summer time, medicine that normally arrives in 18 days took 5 weeks to arrive.
These rallying behind the USPS also say rural post workplace closures and service reductions undermine anything additional standard: regional autonomy and identity.
“Part of the pride of the neighborhood in that you have a post workplace,” stated Brown. “In our tiny village of Paint Lick, it’d be a further devastating blow if the post workplace had been no longer there.”
Trusted in rural Kentucky
The Postal Service is one particular of the oldest government solutions, enshrined in Write-up I of the U.S. Constitution. The very first post workplace in the present-day borders of Kentucky was opened in Danville, in 1792.
These days Americans regularly price the Postal Service to be one particular of the most trusted government agencies. The assistance is bipartisan. A public opinion poll carried out by Pew Analysis Center in March discovered an overwhelming 91% of each Democrats and Republicans had a favorable view of the Postal Service.
Katie Rollins knows that trust firsthand. She worked for 12 years at the post workplace in Paint Lick, her adopted hometown. Residents nonetheless trust her with confidential tasks.
When one particular elderly Paint Lick resident required money to send her terrific-granddaughter a birthday present, she recruited Rollins to enable. The two had been strangers, but the elderly lady trusted Rollins to withdraw revenue from her bank account, unsupervised, for the reason that she knew Rollins had worked at the post workplace.
“I was like a social worker to these individuals,” Rollins stated.
The post workplace is exactly where the oft-anonymous government bureaucracy gets a human face. As a post workplace employee, Rollins stated she usually assisted adults who required enable drafting letters, filling out government types, or writing checks. Other individuals had been in poor overall health and couldn’t sign their personal name, let alone hold a pen.
In Kentucky, practically half of all individuals older than 65 reside in rural places. That is one particular of the highest prices in the nation. Kentucky also claims one particular of the highest prices of poverty for older Americans.
“These elderly individuals down right here do not have anyone,” Rollins stated. “They require that post workplace.”
The post workplace types a core component of rural history, specifically in Appalachian coal nation.
Far more than a century ago, when permanent settlements created about Kentucky’s coal mines, records had been usually lost or not kept in the very first spot.
But there was one particular date that was each properly-documented and properly-accepted to imply a neighborhood was on the map: the date its post workplace was established.
“We tag the history of a lot of these tiny areas by when the post workplace was established, for the reason that we do not have records of when the very first ton of coal was brought out, or when the very first individuals had been settled,” explained Ken Martis, a professor emeritus of geography at West Virginia University. “The post workplace was a superior marker of the historical establishment of a spot.”
The loss of a post workplace can signal the opposite: a neighborhood in decline. Most towns that have lost their post workplace also are losing residents and companies.
Two decades of challenges for USPS
Mount Eden, a little unincorporated town in rural Spencer County, lost its post workplace in 2017, according to USPS. The developing is now residence to a maker of headstones and monuments.
Residents miss the comfort of a regional post workplace. They have to travel ten miles to Waddy, the subsequent-closest post workplace. But they nonetheless get residence mail delivery six days a week, an important if imperfect service. Longtime Mount Eden residents stated there are occasional service delays as properly as higher prices of carrier turnover.
“As far as our mail service, they’re incredibly spotty,” stated resident Chris Hensley. Component of the issue is that the rural carriers are overworked, he added.
Mount Eden’s post workplace was one particular of 699 shuttered nationwide involving 2010 and 2020, according to USPS information. Kentucky was hit hardest.
The 62 offices closed in the Bluegrass State implies one particular in each 11 discontinued post offices was in Kentucky. West Virginia’s 54 closed offices ranked second, though Pennsylvania’s 52 came in third.
The Postal Service workforce is shrinking, as well. In 1999, USPS employed roughly 800,000 profession workers, according to USPS information. Twenty years later, that figure had fallen to 500,000, a 37% lower.
In Kentucky, the quantity of postal workers has dropped about eight% more than the final decade, according to information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The decline in Postal Service jobs is a specific crisis in rural communities, exactly where government mail service is most important and exactly where delivering mail has cleared a dependable path into the middle class.
“Especially in rural places, exactly where jobs are tougher to come by that are not just minimum wage, individuals really feel genuinely fortunate to get a job like it,” stated Silas Home, a Lexington-primarily based writer who worked as a mail carrier in rural Laurel County in the early 2000s.
Home, who not too long ago defended rural mail service in an essay for The Atlantic, stated the job was “incredibly really hard,” involving extended days on his feet, uncooperative climate, and tricky terrain in the mountains of Appalachia. He had a gun pulled on him twice. But the function remains important, he stated.
“A lot of these places do not have UPS or FedEx, or these solutions are considerably additional high-priced,” Home stated. “My service was a genuine lifeline in quite a few approaches for the individuals in the incredibly rural places.”
The USPS faces large challenges. Due to the ubiquity of e mail and social media, the emergence of competitor on the internet retailers such as Amazon, and a 2006 law requiring the Postal Service to pre-fund its retiree positive aspects system, mail volume is dwindling though USPS debts mount.
In the third quarter of FY20, USPS reported a net loss of $two.two billion, practically matching the $two.three billion net loss in the very same quarter final year. In addition to attacking voting by mail, Trump has stated he opposes a USPS bailout. Final week, Sen. Paul, a Kentucky Republican, stated cutting a single day of rural service would save up to $1.five billion. He also recommended minimizing rural delivery to as couple of as two days a week.
But advocates of rural delivery emphasize that the worth of the Postal Service shouldn’t be decreased to a price-advantage evaluation.
“The Postal Service is not a small business. It is a government service,” stated Stan Brunn, a professor emeritus of geography at the University of Kentucky who grew up in the rural Midwest. “It’s created to serve everyone. It is not just serving precise clientele.”
A USPS spokesperson primarily based in Kentucky stated there are presently no plans to close post offices.
As states and counties prepare for unprecedented numbers of voters to participate in the November election by mail, some have accused the Trump administration of sabotaging the USPS as a way to undercut Democrats. In a Congressional hearing earlier this month, Postmaster Common Louis DeJoy was grilled by lawmakers more than his choice to reduce some employee overtime and take away sorting machines. DeJoy told senators delivering election mail was a “sacred duty” that the USPS would fulfill “securely and on time.”
Final week, residents of Inez, a little Appalachian town in Martin County, staged a protest against Robert “Mike” Duncan, chairman of the USPS board of governors and a buddy of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Protester Mickey McCoy stated Duncan was “slowing down the post office” to advantage Trump.
With so quite a few residents of Martin County living in rural places at or beneath the poverty level, “this is like a kick in the nuts to all of them for slowing down the Postal Service,” stated McCoy, a retired English teacher who serves on the county board of education.
Caught in the middle of the politics are rural Americans, who reside in communities exactly where political frustrations are currently palpable.
“This is just a further assault on individuals and communities that in quite a few situations really feel abandoned currently,” stated Shane Barton, an financial developer at the University of Kentucky and candidate for Berea City Council. A ninth-generation resident of Appalachia, Barton stated the Postal Service strengthens “mountain values” such as resilience and neighborliness. “However huge or little that post workplace is, it offers a public advantage.”
Information from the U.S. Postal Service shows mail service efficiency, a measurement of delivery and processing occasions compared to expectations, declined in July.
Kentucky ranks in the bottom ten states in per-capita mail sorters, processors, and processing machine operators, according to BLS information. That is one particular of various issues for the November election.
In Kentucky, any voter who desires an absentee ballot can request one particular at GoVoteKy.com, and state officials have authorized a strategy by means of which any voter concerned about the spread of COVID-19 can cast an absentee ballot and vote by mail.
Ballots should be postmarked by Election Day — Tuesday, Nov. three — and received by county clerks by Nov. six in order to count. The 3-day cushion soon after Election Day could enable mitigate some concerns with mail delays.
To make sure the integrity of the mail technique in the little towns exactly where post offices are nonetheless open, residents say it is paramount they remain open.
When asked what the closure of the Paint Lick post workplace would imply for the town, Rollins refused to think about the possibility. She and the rest of her adopted town strategy to press on regardless of obstacles.
“It will not close in Paint Lick, Ky. We will quit it,” she stated. “We’re going to strive, no matter what. We have individuals down right here who care.”
Graham Ambrose is an investigative reporter covering social solutions and youth concerns. He is a Report for America Corps member. Make contact with Graham at [email protected]