The U.S. Postal Service has proposed ending Saturday mail delivery as a way to improve the ailing finances of one of the federal government’s oldest agencies.
The Post Office (as it has been known by most Americans from its creation by the Second Continental Congress in 1775, when Benjamin Franklin served as the first postmaster general) is of the few federal agencies actually spelled out in the Constitution.
Competition from the Internet and private delivery companies, as well as a continued shrinking volume of mail to be delivered, resulted in the postal service taking a $15.9 billion budget loss last year. Ending Saturday mail delivery, USPS officials say, is just the first of many painful steps they must take to correct the situation.
“Our financial condition is urgent,” U.S. Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said earlier this month.
Donahoe has proposed a plan to cut back to five-day-a-week deliveries for everything except packages. Officials with the USPS say package delivery is one of the service’s few bright spots, with volume increasing by 14 percent since 2010.
In the past, Congress has voted against plans to eliminate Saturday delivery and this latest announcement has drawn strong objections from farmers, the letter carriers’ union and people who live in remote areas. It has also received a thumbs down from key members of Congress. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, issued a statement last week taking the USPS to task for its plan.
“There is no doubt that the U.S. Postal Service is in a financial crisis,” said Collins, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. “It has been hit with falling mail volume, the recession, and the loss of customers to digital technology such as email and online bill paying that has replaced traditional mail. Cutting service should, however, be the last resort, not the Postal Service’s first choice.”
Most of the USPS budget woes stem from a 2006 law forcing it to pay $11 billion a year into future retiree health benefits. That’s something no other federal agency is being asked to do. Without that requirement and other labor expenses, the USPS would have actually recorded a lower deficit in 2012 than in the previous year.
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