Saturday mail delivery may end

Published 11:07 am Monday, February 11, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Postal Service continues to seek ways to stop bleeding financially.

USPS, reportedly with a $15.9 billion net loss for fiscal 2012, announced Wednesday its plans to stop delivering mail on Saturdays, beginning with the week of Aug. 5. However, those plans will not impact the delivery of packages and that Post Offices across the nation will remain open on Saturdays…some of the more rural locations may cut hours on that day.

The announcement came without the plan being approved by the U.S. Congress. That body of government has blocked previous attempts by USPS to end Saturday delivery.

“The American public understands the financial challenges of the Postal Service and supports these steps as a responsible and reasonable approach to improving our financial situation,” Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said during a Wednesday news conference. “The Postal Service has a responsibility to take the steps necessary to return to long-term financial stability and ensure the continued affordability of the U.S. Mail.”

Donahoe said the plan will save approximately $2 billion a year, thus helping to ease the financial strain USPS has suffered in the years since Internet and e-commerce has gained popularity.

However, all is not lost on Saturday for USPS customers. Plans call for the delivery of packages, mail-order medicines, priority and express mail to continue on Saturdays. Those services are among the most popular and profitable for USPS.

Additionally, post offices across the United States will remain open on Saturdays, allowing customers to drop off mail or packages, buy stamps and access their P.O. boxes. Smaller post offices, especially those in rural locations, will see their Saturday hours reduced.

The Postal Service currently is not operating under appropriations legislation, meaning the organization will have a window to end Saturday mail delivery when the government’s most recent temporary spending measure expires on March 27. USPS is asking Congress not to re-impose the restriction against five-day delivery when that time comes.

On the flip side of this issue is how this plan will impact those that depend on the USPS for Saturday delivery, especially newspapers and other periodicals. Donahoe’s announcement also was met with resistance from the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association (NRLCA).

“The U.S. Postal Service stoppage of Saturday delivery is definitely an issue for all community newspapers across the nation,” said Joe Cowart, Publisher of Roanoke-Chowan Publications based in Ahoskie. “Our industry has been facing this possibility of the post office stopping Saturday delivery for some time now and I think many in our industry we be affected negatively. We are currently seeking alternative ideas and means to distribute our Saturday editions.”

The National Newspaper Association (NNA), which represents community papers, has fought proposed cuts to Saturday delivery before as many of its members time their editions to arrive on that day.

“We think it’s a bad deal, but we understand the problem,” NNA Postal Chair Max Heath said.

The Postal Service, he noted, is unique among federal agencies in that it has to pre-fund retirement obligations.

Polls that show public support for ending six-day delivery, Heath said, don’t represent the Postal Service’s biggest clients, the mailers.

“All they’re going to do is drive more people out of the Postal Service,” Heath said. “Do they face a Hobson’s choice? Perhaps.”

The NNA has also said eliminating six-day delivery could slow payments to and from small publishers. About 30 percent of NNA’s member papers mail a Saturday paper, Heath said. If Saturday delivery goes away, publishers of Saturday editions will be forced to look into a private delivery system for that day.

On the heels of Donahoe’s announcement, NRLCA President Jeanette P. Dwyer released the following statement:

“Today’s announcement by Postmaster General Donahoe to eliminate six-day delivery is yet another death knell for the quality service provided by the U.S. Postal Service. For decades, the Postal Service has upheld a personal and professional standard of service, delivering to every household nationwide six days a week. To erode this service will undermine the Postal Service’s core mission and is completely unacceptable.

“Saturday mail delivery is an important communication and marketing tool used by millions of citizens and mailers across the country, especially in rural areas that lack broadband Internet access. Many customers rely on the Postal Service to deliver prescription medications, social security checks, and financial statements. Many other citizens and businesses rely on Saturday for the collection of outgoing invoices and materials.

“Since 2006 the Postal Service has been mandated by law to pre-fund future retiree health benefits, a 75-year obligation, in only 10 years. This has left them drowning in red ink. While no other federal agency or business is burdened by such an extreme pre-funding requirement, the Postal Service is shackled and left to fail. Congress must act immediately to rectify this situation, or else risk harming many businesses and individuals and eliminating millions of jobs across the country.

“On February 13, I will testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. In my testimony, I will emphasize the importance of protecting and securing the future of the Postal Service, including the maintenance of six-day delivery as we know it today.”

The NRLCA is an independent union whose members include 104,718 full- and part-time rural letter carriers. Rural carriers deliver mail on 73,461 routes, serving over 40 million customers and driving almost 3.5 million miles each delivery day in all 50 states, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The average route is more than 47 miles long and serves 552 boxes.