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Changing Postal ZIP Code Boundaries

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Publication Date: June 2006

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL33488

Topic: Transportation (Mail and delivery service)

Abstract:

Ever since the ZIP Code system for identifying address locations was devised in the 1960s, some citizens have wanted to change the ZIP Code to which their addresses are assigned. Because ZIP Codes are often not aligned with municipal boundaries, millions of Americans have mailing addresses in neighboring jurisdictions. This can cause higher insurance rates, confusion in voter registration, misdirected property and sales tax revenues for municipalities, and property value effects. Some communities that lack a delivery post office complain that the need to use mailing addresses of adjacent areas robs them of a community identity.

Because the ZIP Code is the cornerstone for the U.S. Postal Service's (USPS's) mail distribution system, USPS long resisted changing ZIP Codes for any reason other than to improve the efficiency of delivery. Frustrated citizens frequently have turned to Members of Congress for assistance in altering ZIP Code boundaries. In the 101st Congress, a House subcommittee heard testimony from Members, city officials, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that USPS routinely denied local requests for adjusting ZIP Code boundaries in a peremptory manner. It considered three bills that would allow local governments to determine mailing addresses for their jurisdictions.

Since then, USPS has developed a "ZIP Code Boundary Review Process" that promises "every reasonable effort" to consider and if possible accommodate municipal requests to modify the last lines of an acceptable address and/or ZIP Code boundaries. The process places responsibility on district managers, rather than local postmasters, to review requests for boundary adjustment, to evaluate costs and benefits of alternative solutions to identified problems, and to provide a decision within 60 days. If the decision is negative, the process provides for an appeal to the manager of delivery in USPS headquarters, where a review based on whether or not a "reasonable accommodation" was made is to be provided within 60 days.

The boundary review process, coupled with a more flexible attitude on the part of USPS than was formerly the case, offers enhanced possibilities of accommodating community desires. One accommodation that can often be made is to allow the alternative use of more than one city name in the last line of the address, while retaining the ZIP Code number of the delivery post office. This can help with community identity problems, though not with problems such as insurance rates or tax remittances being directed by ZIP Code.

Members of Congress who are contacted by constituents desiring a ZIP Code accommodation should first ensure that the constituents are aware of the boundary review process requirements. Constituents should be made aware that simply having approached a local postmaster and having been told that an adjustment would be disruptive and impractical is not part of the process. The local postmaster has no power to make changes and may be unaware of the headquarters instructions to make "every reasonable effort" to reach an accommodation.

This report will be updated only if there is a change in the ZIP Code process.