By Max Heath

The U.S. Postal Service, frustrated with lack of congressional action to improve its financial position, announced this summer that it would implement the next round of 80-plus plant consoli­dations.

Unless the National Newspaper Association and its coalition partners are able to move a reform bill in the lame-duck session, U.S. Postal Service will proceed with closing more plants and merging mail into bigger, less efficient plants from January through October 2015.

That makes it timely to review the safeguards NNA has in place to maximize delivery service in the local office, the county/market area, the secondary market area, and distant areas.

1. Next-day delivery for destination delivery unit drops

When current service-standard “business rules” were being hammered out between the Postal Service and mailers, the National Newspaper Association was at the table of discussion.

First priority was to ensure that mail entered at the office of delivery kept one-day service. That means next day for mail dropped before Critical Entry Time, known as CET.
Another NNA-won rule change allows copies of Periodicals dropped at the delivery office under No. 1-3 of this column to be dropped in bundles only, with no containers required.

Avoiding containers also avoids the container charge for Periodicals outside-county. Bundles of Standard Mail shoppers can also be dropped – though there is no container charge – but not necessarily for next-day delivery.

2. Overnight Drop Policy at primary entry office

Since November 2009, the Postal Service Business Mail Entry has operated under a policy obtained by NNA in negotiations with postal officials to protect newspapers, which historically dropped their mail off in the middle of the night, or otherwise could not meet the Critical Entry Time referenced above.

The current policy applies to community newspapers that mail no more than 500,000 copies per year and meet certain other conditions (more than 50 percent in-county, etc.).

The interpretation of the policy was clarified later to include not only mail dropped after CET, but also before operating hours in the morning. It is also interpreted to apply to situations where CETs were moved earlier or operating hours started later, reducing the window of time to drop the newspaper to as little as 1.5 hours in some offices.

Such occurrences have been widespread as the Postal Service sought to cut expenses rather than close offices.

3. Dispatch to other offices in-county or out

This policy in Domestic Mail Manual 207.28.3 has long existed, but NNA worked to broaden it more than a decade ago to include sectional center facilities, or SCFs. It consists of a simple letter request to your local postmaster, who must approve it. The news­paper can then take copies directly to other post offices in the area, even dropping after hours as needed, without taking them to the local office first.

No verification is required on these copies. Some postmasters confuse this with Plant-Verified Drop Shipment copies and require Postal Ser­vice Form 8125s. These do not apply to Periodicals dropped under Exceptional Dispatch.

The National Newspaper Association suggests that newspapers resend their requests annually because there are so many changes at the postmaster level.

4. Hubs dispatch “Direct” containers within old sectional center facilities

This helps protect delivery to mail in areas just outside a newspaper’s primary market covered by Nos. 1-3 in this column. NNA worked long and hard to get the “Hub Policy” in effect earlier in 2014.

As the Postal Service closed smaller sectional center facilities, it made sense for them to keep mail that didn’t have to be opened and worked upstream to be cross-docked or distributed. USPS agreed to a formal policy designating that certain containers entered at the old SCF or at post offices served by it will be sent directly to their destinations in other towns within the territory served.

Direct containers are defined as five-digit, carrier-route, or a mix of the two (Merged 5-digit, or M5D, for merger of both sortations to same ZIP). Only “working” containers sorted to either 3-digit or SCF must be sent to the new distant sorting plant.

5. Use Flats Trays to improve distant delivery

NNA has worked with U.S. Postal Service headquarters since 2005 on this policy change, for Periodicals only. This allows newspapers to get out of costly, harder-to-spot generic sacks and into what is essentially a first-class container so that Periodicals move on the same trucks.

Although they currently require a green lid, identical to first-class mail, NNA is work­ing with Postal Service head­quarters on removing lids for mail within the origin sec­tional center facility, or SCF.

Some plants and post offices already encourage unlidded trays, which allows nesting in trucks for better space utilization and instant recognition of newspapers in mail processing plants.

Sacks are costly to process, driving up Periodicals prices. The National Newspaper Association will seek lower prices for tray users when it can prove widespread use.

A new sortation created in late 2005, Origin Mixed area distribution center, or ADC, removes pieces from Mixed ADC to create delivery via first-class truck trips for destinations available from the origin processing plant.

It is a mandatory sort for PAVE-certified software vendors (Presort Accuracy, Validation, and Evaluation), which newspapers should use to be in compliance with continual changes in U.S. Postal Service labeling lists.

6. Electronic subscriptions to distant locations

NNA worked five years to gain approval of paid/requester subscriptions to count on the annual Postal Service Form 3526, Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation.

This legitimizes non-postal subscribers to advertisers. Those subscribers willing to read the newspaper electronically should be encouraged to take this route for problem deliveries far outside the newspaper market.

7. Tips from publishers

Many newspaper publishers try creative solutions to solve their delivery problems, from putting notices on the front page about whom in the U.S. Postal Service to contact with complaints to a reminder of day of mailing and “deliver by” dates.

Joe Moss of the Carroll County Comet in Flora, Indiana, recently had problems with tubs going through the Sectional Center Facility 479 in Lafayette, Indiana, to Indianapolis, and then back to his county.

He slapped a note on the trays stating “DO NOT SEND TO INDY, SORT AT 479.”

It worked. But that plant is set for 2015 closure, and he may need to use Exceptional Dispatch on in-county copies going through SCF 479.

The Ellsworth (Maine) American, featured in the May Publishers Auxiliary, runs a boxed notice on its front page stating the date entered, an 800 number to call if the paper does not arrive on time, and the expected postal delivery times by location.

Max Heath, the National Newspaper Association postal chairman, is a postal consultant for Athlon Media Group.