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Tuesday, October 21, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 2/10/2013

Return to sender

There will come a time when Saturday mail delivery is no longer needed — when it becomes an archaic luxury that Americans can’t afford. This is not that time.

The U.S. Postal Service is bleeding money. Its losses in the fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30 totaled nearly $16 billion, even though postal officials in recent years have cut billions of dollars in costs, eliminated nearly 200,000 jobs, and consolidated more than 200 mail-processing centers.

More red ink is expected this year. To stem the tide, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe announced last week that Aug. 3 will be the last Saturday that the postal service will deliver mail to homes and businesses. It will continue to deliver packages six days a week, post offices that now are open on Saturdays will stay open, and Saturday mail still will be placed in post office boxes.

The Postal Service is an independent agency and does not receive tax money, but it is subject to congressional control. The change is expected to save the service about $2 billion a year.

Cutting out Saturday mail delivery will adversely affect people in rural areas who don’t have easy access to post office boxes. Also hurt will be poor, elderly, and shut-in customers who depend on the mail for medicine, assistance checks, and contact with the outside world.

Businesses, including newspapers, also rely on comprehensive mail delivery. Mailing and mail-related industries employ more than 8 million Americans and add $1 trillion to the economy.

Most of the Postal Service’s current woes are the responsibility of Congress. Since 2006, lawmakers have required the service to pay about $5.5 billion a year to fund future retiree health benefits — something no other government agency is required to do. Its $11 billion, two-year payment last year accounted for most of the service’s losses.

For years, Congress has included a ban on five-day-only delivery in spending bills. Postal Service officials believe that the expiration next month of the current temporary spending measure provides an opportunity for them to drop Saturday delivery. More likely, the request that Congress not include the ban in its next spending bill is a ploy to pressure lawmakers into giving the service some financial relief.

First-class mail volume has declined by 20 percent since 2010. The instant gratification provided by Twitter, Facebook, text messaging, and other social media has largely replaced the elegant art of letter-writing, except among older people.

Millions of people shop, do their banking, pay their bills, and check their credit-card and other statements online. That eliminates the need to wait for packets of advertising or monthly accountings to arrive in their mailboxes.

Lawmakers keep tripping over their feet instead of helping the Postal Service cope with these changes. Last year, the House and Senate both considered reform legislation.

The Senate bill passed, then stalled, while the House measure never made it to the floor.

Congress needs to approve comprehensive reform that would deliver a leaner, more efficient mail service. Lawmakers could begin by removing the onerous retiree health-funding mandate. Proposals to sacrifice services on which Americans depend should be stamped “return to sender.”



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