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Postal Service to cut Saturday mail to trim costs

Thursday, February 7, 2013

(Photo)
In this Sept. 6, 2011 file photo Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe testifiee on Capitol Hill in Washington. The U.S. Postal Service will stop delivering mail on Saturdays but continue to deliver packages six days a week under a plan aimed at saving about $2 billion, the financially struggling agency says.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
WASHINGTON -- Saturday mail soon may go the way of the Pony Express and penny postcards. The Postal Service on Wednesday said that it plans to cut back to five-day-a-week deliveries for everything except packages to stem its financial losses in a world radically reordered by the Internet.

"Our financial condition is urgent," declared Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe. But Congress has voted in the past to bar the idea of eliminating Saturday deliveries, and his announcement immediately drew protests from some lawmakers. The plan, which is to take effect in August, brought vigorous objections from farmers, the letter carriers' union and others.

Two local post office managers referred a Southeast Missourian reporter to a regional Postal Service spokesman, who said job-loss numbers at individual branches aren't available.

"It's really tough to narrow it down, even regionally," said Richard Watkins, spokesman for the Postal Service's Mid-America district. Watkins expects future staff reductions through attrition.

Although Saturday delivery will discontinue, branches open Saturdays will continue to be open. Post office boxes will continue to get mail on Saturdays and packages will be delivered.

Carla Beck, American Postal Workers Union vice president for Missouri's Southeast region, said she isn't authorized to speak with media.

The Postal Service, which incurred a $15.9 billion loss in the last budget year expects to save $2 billion annually with the cutback. Mail such as letters and magazines would be affected. Delivery of packages of all sizes would continue six days a week.

The plan accentuates one of the agency's strong points: Package delivery has increased 14 percent since 2010, officials said, while delivery of letters and other mail has plummeted. Email has decreased the mailing of paper letters, but online purchases have increased package shipping, forcing the Postal Service to adjust to customers' new habits.

"Things change," Donahoe said.

James Valentine, an antiques shop owner in Toledo, wasn't too concerned about the news.

"The mail isn't that important to me anymore. I don't sit around waiting for it to come. It's a sign of the times," he said, adding, "It's not like anyone writes letters anymore."

The Postal Service has had to adapt to changing times ever since Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first postmaster general by the Continental Congress in 1775. The Pony Express began in 1860, six-day delivery started in 1863, and airmail became the mode in 1918. Twice-a-day delivery was cut to one in 1950 to save money.

But change is not the biggest factor in the agency's predicament -- Congress is. The majority of the service's red ink comes from a 2006 law forcing it to pay about $5.5 billion a year into future retiree health benefits, something no other agency does. Without that payment -- $11.1 billion in a two-year installment last year -- and related labor expenses, the mail agency sustained an operating loss of $2.4 billion for the past fiscal year, lower than the previous year.

Congress has stymied the service's efforts to close some post offices in small towns.

During the last several years, the Postal Service has advocated shifting to a five-day delivery schedule for mail and packages -- and it repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, has appealed to Congress to approve the move. An independent agency, the service gets no tax dollars for day-to-day operations but is subject to congressional control.

The proposed change is based on what appears to be a legal loophole -- and that may be a gamble. Congress has long included a ban on five-day-only delivery in its spending bills, but because the federal government is operating under a temporary spending measure rather than an appropriations bill, Donahoe says it's the agency's interpretation that it can make the change itself.

"This is not like a 'gotcha' or anything like that," he said. The agency essentially wants Congress to keep the ban out of any new spending bill after the temporary measure expires March 27.

Will Congress try to block the idea?

"Let's see what happens," Donahoe said. "I can't speak for Congress."

Two Republican lawmakers sent a letter to leaders of the House and Senate in support of the elimination of Saturday mail. It's "common-sense reform," wrote Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

But Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, called it "bad news for Alaskans and small business owners" who he said need timely delivery to rural areas.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, was disappointed, and she questioned the savings estimate. She worried the loss of Saturday service may drive away customers.

"The Postal Service is the linchpin of a $1 trillion mailing and mail-related industry that employs more than 8 million Americans in fields as diverse as direct mail, printing, catalog companies, magazine and newspaper publishing and paper manufacturing," she said. "A healthy Postal Service is not just important to postal customers but also to our national economy."

She noted that the Senate last year passed a bill that would have stopped the postal service from eliminating Saturday service for at least two years and required it to try two years of aggressive cost cutting instead.

The House didn't pass a bill.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday, "I think trying to act in this postal area is pretty difficult. But I understand where the postal commission is coming from. They're in charge with running the post office, but yet the Congress, in its wisdom, has tied their hands every which way in order for them to actually run the post office in a revenue neutral way."

"And so Congress needs to act, there's no question about that, and I hope we'll act soon."

President Barack Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, said the White House learned only Tuesday about the agency's decision to cut Saturday service. He said the White House is still evaluating the decision but would have preferred its own comprehensive overhaul package that failed to pass Congress last year be adopted "for the sake of a stronger future Postal Service."

The president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Fredric Rolando, said the cutback is "a disastrous idea that would have a profoundly negative effect on the Postal Service and on millions of customers," particularly businesses, rural communities, the elderly, the disabled and others who depend on Saturday delivery for commerce and communication.

He said the maneuver by Donahoe to make the change "flouts the will of Congress, as expressed annually over the past 30 years in legislation that mandates six-day delivery."

The National Farmers Union said "impacts on rural America will be particularly harmful."

Despite that opposition, the Postal Service clearly thinks it has a majority of the American public on its side. The service's market research indicates that nearly 7 in 10 people support the switch as a way to reduce costs, Donahoe said.

He said the savings would include employee reassignment and attrition.

The agency in November reported a record annual loss of $15.9 billion for the past budget year and forecast more red ink in 2013, capping a tumultuous year in which it was forced to default on the $11 billion in retiree health benefit prepayments to avert bankruptcy.

The financial losses for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 were more than triple the $5.1 billion loss in the previous year. Having reached its borrowing limit, the mail agency is operating with little cash on hand.

The Postal Service is in the midst of a major restructuring throughout its retail, delivery and mail processing operations. Since 2006, it has cut annual costs by about $15 billion, reduced the size of its career workforce by 193,000, or 28 percent, and has consolidated more than 200 mail processing locations, officials say.

At the DeCicco Food Market in Pelham, N.Y., where they handle the mail for all 10 of their stores, the assistant manager, Frank Torres, said they will try to adjust their routine. I'll tell you, though, the customers are pretty upset, we've been hearing them at the [checkout] registers. Some of them get mail they want on Saturday.

"You know what also, it will be strange not seeing the mailman on Saturday. Our office girls know him on a first-name basis."

Southeast Missourian staff writer Shay Alderman contributed to this report.


Associated Press writers David Koenig in Dallas; Jim Fitzgerald in White Plains, N.Y.; John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio; Nedra Pickler and Jerry Bodlander and researcher Monika Mathur in Washington contributed to this report.


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The struggling postal service they have tried about everything in the book to try to get the books to balance.

-- Posted by swampeastmissouri on Wed, Feb 6, 2013, at 12:27 PM

Drop Saturday mail delivery? Sure! I agree with seampeastmissouri on this one. Close smaller post offices; consolidate services. This is a big rat hole that money is pouring into. Stop up the hole, Congress. Times change...the Postal Service needs to also! Congress is standing in the way!

-- Posted by lynwood on Fri, Feb 8, 2013, at 9:22 AM

Yeah thats it. They lost $16 billion and can only come up with a plan to cut $2 billion. This results from a union run government operation where employees must continue to be paid for jobs they don't do. Only the government can charge more and offer less. That is what is happening now with health care.

-- Posted by jadip4me on Mon, Feb 11, 2013, at 9:43 AM


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