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Heidi Heitkamp: Why I'm bringing the postmaster general to North Dakota

WASHINGTON—North Dakotans shouldn't need to create community-wide Facebook groups to sort through stacks of mail that end up at the wrong address. But that's exactly what folks in a south Fargo neighborhood had to do last year to get their mail, including everything from bills to employment forms, tax returns to medication.

After I raised this serious problem with the postmaster general at a U.S. Senate hearing in January, I was encouraged when the Postal Service listened to my concerns and quickly replaced the community's mail carrier, hiring an interim carrier with years of experience.

It was a good example of the Postal Service making needed improvements in North Dakota. But there's more work to do—and I'm excited that Postmaster General Megan Brennan has accepted my invitation to visit our state.

She'll be on the ground in North Dakota this month to see our challenges up close.

As so many North Dakotans experience every day, our mail challenges extend well beyond one neighborhood in south Fargo. Folks across the state, from the Bakken to the Red River Valley, tell me they don't experience the reliable and timely service they rightfully expect.

During Brennan's visit, we'll be touring the Bismarck mail processing center so she can see the effect that changes and scale-backs at the Minot mail processing center have had on operations in Bismarck. We'll also sit down with community and business leaders to hear directly from folks whose livelihoods are impacted by the chronic mail challenges we face in North Dakota.

When I launched my Fix My Mail survey in February to get feedback and data on how North Dakotans think the Postal Service is performing, responses flooded in. Already I've heard from more than 500 North Dakotans, many with major mail problems.

In Fordville, N.D., a business told me about how entire batches of checks took 10 to 20 days to arrive at their destinations. Some were never delivered at all.

In Carpio, N.D., a resident said their mail took nine days to get from Kenmare, N.D., to Langdon, N.D.—a distance of 180 miles.

In Fairmont, N.D., a resident reported locked doors at the local post office, leaving mail in their post-office boxes inaccessible.

And I can tell Herald readers that the Postal Service is listening. Inspired by the success of Fix My Mail, the Postal Service launched Your Mail Matters in May. Like Fix My Mail, the program aims to encourage North Dakotans to share their challenges.

Actions like that, along with the postmaster general's willingness to come to North Dakota and see the shortcomings we are dealing with, show me the Postal Service is taking rural America's concerns seriously.

The Fix My Mail survey that set this effort in motion is an extension of the Fix My Mail initiative I launched in 2014 to gather personal stories from North Dakotans having difficulty with their mail.

Those stories led to my Rural Postal Act, which I introduced to improve rural mail service. My bill would put a two-year freeze on closing additional processing centers, protect six-day mail delivery and rural post offices and improve service to make sure folks receive mail on time.

The bill addresses feedback I heard from North Dakotans through my grassroots initiative in 2014 and 2015—including concerns that consolidation of processing centers has hurt delivery times for families and businesses.

With the U.S. Congress working on a comprehensive postal reform bill, I'm fighting to include key pieces of my Rural Postal Act to guarantee North Dakotans' concerns are addressed. Bringing the postmaster general to North Dakota and continuing my productive dialogue with her is a key part of that effort.

Folks often tell me that their mail delivery used to be so reliable that they could set their watch based on when the mailman came. And as I work to restore that faith in mail delivery, I need Herald readers' help.

I urge readers to share their stories by filling out the Fix My Mail survey on my U.S. Senate website so we can hold the Postal Service accountable and improve mail delivery in North Dakota for years to come.

Heitkamp, a Democrat, represents North Dakota in the U.S. Senate.