Neither rain, nor shine… nor Saturdays?

Getting mail on Saturday looks to go the way of the Pony Express, the telegraph, and penny postcards.

The U.S. Postal Service announced Wednesday that it plans to cut back to five-day-a-week deliveries for everything except packages, in an effort to stem its financial losses in a world radically re-ordered by the Internet.

“Our financial condition is urgent,” U.S. Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said during a Wednesday press conference.

But Congress has voted in the past to bar the idea of eliminating Saturday delivery, and his announcement immediately drew protests from some lawmakers. The plan, which is to take effect in August, also brought vigorous objections from farmers, the letter carriers’ union and others.

U.S. Congressman Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) issued a blistering attack of the decision following the USPS announcement.

“This is just another example of protecting bureaucrats’ jobs at the regional level and up – all at the cost of the American people,” he said. “It is an attempt to restore a system that is already broken, and in a way, that disproportionately affects millions of Americans, companies and small communities who may depend on Saturday delivery for business and communication.”

The Postal Service, which suffered a $15.9 billion loss in the past budget year, said it expected to save $2 billion annually with the Saturday cutback. Mail such as letters, newspapers, and magazines would be affected. Delivery of packages of all sizes would continue six days a week.

The plan accentuates one of the agency’s strong points: Package delivery has increased by 14 percent since 2010, officials say, while the delivery of letters and other mail has plummeted. Email has decreased the mailing of paper letters, but online purchases have increased package shipping, forcing the Postal Service to adjust to customers’ new habits.

“Things change,” Donahoe added.

Local mechanic Jimmy Vinson said he wasn’t too concerned about the news.

“The mail isn’t that important to me anymore. I don’t sit around waiting for it to come,” he said. “It’s not like anyone really writes letters anymore. Most of the mail I get now is ads and junkmail anyways […] I think it’s just a sign of the times.”

In fact, the Postal Service has had to adapt to changing times ever since Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first postmaster general by the Continental Congress in 1775. The Pony Express began in 1860, six-day delivery started in 1863, and airmail became the mode in 1918. Twice-a-day delivery was cut to one in 1950 to save money.

But change is not the biggest factor in the agency’s predicament — Congress is.

The majority of the service’s red ink comes from a 2006 law forcing it to pay about $5.5 billion a year into future retiree health benefits, something no other agency does. Without that payment – $11.1 billion in a two-year installment last year – and related labor expenses, the mail agency sustained an operating loss of $2.4 billion for the past fiscal year, lower than the previous year.

Congress also has stymied the service’s efforts to close some post offices in small towns.

Under the new plan, mail would be delivered to homes and businesses only from Monday through Friday but would still be delivered to post office boxes on Saturdays. Post offices now open on Saturdays would remain open.

Research indicates nearly 7 in 10 Americans support the switch to five day delivery, but some residents in our area have mixed feelings.

“I think it’s the first step to getting rid of delivery,” said retired Henderson postal worker Loretta Clary. “I think we’re going to see it go from no Saturday delivery to no Friday delivery, or delivery only a couple times a week, and then everything will be through the post office and P.O. boxes.”

Henderson senior citizen J.R. Evans said the decision punishes the customers without taking care of those most responsible.

“They got that gold-plated insurance and benefits and they want all of us to foot the bill or take less service,” he said. “If they’d started tightening the belt a long time ago they wouldn’t be in this predicament.”

In November the agency reported a record annual loss of $15.9 billion for the past budget year and forecast more red ink in 2013, capping a tumultuous year in which it was forced to default on the $11 billion in retiree health benefit prepayments to avert bankruptcy.

The financial losses for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 were more than triple the $5.1 billion loss in the previous year.

Having reached its borrowing limit, the mail agency is operating with little cash on hand.

Officials from the Postal Service say the agency is in the midst of a major restructuring throughout its retail, delivery and mail processing operations.

Since 2006, it has cut annual costs by about $15 billion, reduced the size of its career workforce by 193,000, or 28 percent, and has consolidated more than 200 mail processing locations, officials say.

 

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