Holidays don't aid falling mail volume

Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Fewer holiday packages and cards have are moving by mail, said Mike Keefe, Cape Gir-ardeau postmaster.

"Our volume today, about 12 weeks into the new fiscal year, is down 3.8 percent throughout Southeast Missouri," said Keefe, according to mail volume at the U.S. Postal Service's Regional Mail Processing Center in the Cape West Industrial Park.

The center processes mail for the area in Southeast Missouri from Flat River to Poplar Bluff -- as many as 700,000 pieces a day, said Keefe.

That translates into about 2,660 fewer pieces of mail a day on average since terrorist attacks in September.

Nationally, mail volume has dropped more than 12 percent, the first drop in a decade.

The U.S. Postal Service said Tuesday it had lost $1.7 billion for the fiscal year ended September, as the terrorist attack and a slumping economy has created the mail volume to fall.

The loss for the fiscal year dwarfs a $199 million shortfall a year earlier.

"Our volume in Southeast Missouri was up during the fiscal year," said Keefe. "Our volume last year was up about 2.8 percent."

Nationally, mail volume fell 420 million pieces to 207.5 billion, with deliveries declining in all categories of mail except first class, which rose one-tenth of one percent.

Terrorism and competition

The financial condition of the post office, nationally, was already shaky before the Sept. 11 attacks by hijacked airliners -- which disrupted deliveries by delaying transport at home and abroad -- and the discovery of anthrax-contaminated mail that began in October.

Competition from electronic mail, rising expenses and a smaller-than-expected increase in stamp prices earlier this year had already combined to pinch finances.

The last eight weeks have been the most difficult in postal history, said Postmaster General John Potter said, who told Congress last month that the service needed an immediate $2 billion to cover lost revenues and $3 billion in costs for cleaning up anthrax spores, purchasing mail-sanitizing equipment and instituting other measures.

Still, postal officials maintain that mail delivery is safe as they prepare to deliver some 20 billion pieces during the holidays. But since early October five people in the United States have died from anthrax, including two Washington postal employees.

The Postal Service said it financial woes could linger well into next year. It was already on track to lose an estimated $1.35 billion in its 2002 fiscal year prior to the attacks in Washington and New York, and has applied for a 3-cent increase in the price of a regular stamp.

With only 19 shopping days until Christmas, postal authorities anticipate a late rush.

"A lot of people will mail a lot of letters, cards, and packages over the next couple of weeks," Keefe said.

"But mail is still running less than a year ago."

rowen@semissourian.com

(573)335-6611, extension 133

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