USPS plan to cut Saturday service is a necessary step to recovery
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 8, 2013 03:02
If the United States Postal Service gets its way, you’ll be getting a lot less spam on Saturdays.
The USPS announced Wednesday it intends to stop delivering mail on Saturdays beginning the week of Aug. 5 in an effort to save the struggling agency. While weekend mail will cease, the service plans to continue Saturday delivery of packages and will also keep post offices open so customers can continue to drop off outgoing mail, buy postage stamps or access their post office boxes.
Finally – a government agency doing something mildly productive and taking the initiative to fix its problems. Criticism aside, this decision should be welcomed with open arms.
Any kind of postal service reform is well overdue and much needed. USPS reported a $15.9 billion net loss last fiscal year – three times the loss recorded in the year prior. In 2005, USPS was debt-free.
What happened? The short version is that, thanks to the accessibility of the Internet and e-commerce, the need for snail mail is dwindling. First-class mail, which has been the most profitable product for the Postal Service, has fallen by a third since its peak 12 years ago, and USPS has been in a downward spiral for years as it has tried to adjust to the digital age.
Only three out of every 10 people under the age of 45 say they use the service all the time. In fact, the only dedicated demographic is senior citizens, who push the envelope at a whopping 54 percent.
On top of all that, a 2006 congressional mandate required the agency to pay up and pre-fund healthcare benefits for future retirees, forcing it to borrow billions to make up for its shortfalls.
USPS has received messages of support and cries of outrage since Wednesday’s announcement. Some of the biggest complaints come from the country’s rural communities, where lawmakers have argued the change would hurt their constituents who rely on delivery of prescription drugs and medical supplies. Two major unions in the industry, the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Association of Rural Letter Carriers, have been vocal in their opposition, referring to the move as “unacceptable” and claiming the USPS doesn’t have the authority to eliminate a day of service without congressional approval.
Other trades, such as the publishing industry, have also expressed disapproval, stating any changes would force quicker deadlines for magazines, affect the delivery of small daily and weekly newspapers and force some publishers to seek private delivery options.
As for USPS, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe insisted the change will not bring any layoffs, but it is expected to cut overtime and part-time hours and reduce the hours at thousands of smaller locations. Overall, the change has the potential to eliminate approximately 22,500 jobs of over 600,000 positions nationwide.
That is, unfortunately, a sign of the times. The Postal Service is at a point where it doesn’t have another immediate option. After hitting its $15 billion debt limit last September, it’s capped from borrowing any more money from private banks, only able to rely on the U.S. Treasury.
Despite the complaints, a majority supports the change. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll from last June, about seven in 10 Americans say they would favor the elimination of Saturday delivery as a way to help the post office deal with its debt.
According to projections, the move will at least save about $2 billion a year, barely a dent in the overall deficit. But it’s a start, and it’s as far as the agency can go until Congress caves in to true reform.
It always goes back to Congress, where many members have already expressed blatant disapproval. Saving USPS should not be a political issue, but you can’t argue that cutting service should be its last resort and not its first choice (as Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has). Congress failed just last year to seal the deal on a massive overhaul of the agency.
Last April, a series of proposals for reform passed in the Senate. The plan would have given USPS about $11 billion to offer buyouts and pay off its debts. According to The Washington Post, estimates on how much USPS owes to pension accounts determined the agency has overpaid to the fund for years. But the House failed to take it up and the plan died, leaving the agency to operate on a temporary spending measure.
USPS is in desperate need of that overhaul, but until the government can get its act together and revamp the system, cutting Saturday delivery is a necessary step to ensure USPS’ security and future. While it is only a short-term solution to a much bigger problem, let the service do what it must. We will adjust.