The U.S. Postal Service announced today that it would no longer deliver first-class mail, newspapers and magazines starting in early August, in an effort to stanch multi-billion-dollar deficits, but would continue regular parcel deliveries. The move, which could still be blocked by Congress or court action, is likely to affect rural Americans more than others. Their post offices could also be open less often.
Post offices will remain open for item drop-off, stamp purchase and box access, "but hours likely would be reduced at thousands of smaller locations," Ed O'Keefe reports for The Washington Post. Rural post offices especially have felt the sting of a closures and reduced hours in recent years as USPS losses have mounted. "Opposition to significant changes rests mostly with lawmakers from far-flung rural communities, who fear that a change in schedules could jeopardize low-cost delivery of medicines and medical supplies to elderly customers," O'Keefe writes. The continuation of parcel delivery could blunt that argument.
Newspaper groups have fought efforts to stop Saturday delivery; some small daily newspapers, many of which publish on Saturdays, have moved to mail delivery to eliminate carrier costs. Max Heath, postal consultant to the National Newspaper Association, said the move was a bad business decision: "This move will only speed up the loss of business mail volume due to lack of delivery for Saturday newspapers and shoppers, and slower overall delivery of Periodicals and Standard Mail used by newspapers, with resultant loss of subscribers and advertisers. USPS fails to properly calculate or consider the lost revenue that will accompany the overly-rosy cost-saving projections."
"Some in Congress say the Postal Service has exceeded its authority," NPR reports. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said, "The Postal Service’s decision to eliminate Saturday delivery is inconsistent with current law and threatens to further jeopardize its customer base."
Last year the Senate passed a broad postal-reform bill that would have helped USPS financially and guaranteed six-day delivery for two more years, but the House did not act on it. "With postal legislation at an impasse, it’s certainly not a given that Congress would even approve a move to five-day delivery," says Save the Post Office. "The Obama administration has expressed its approval, and the House bill under consideration last year would have permitted the Postal Service to cut Saturdays as soon as six months after passage of new legislation."
Officials predict the Saturday cutbacks will save $2 billion a year, an amount that Save the Post Office doubts. Last year the Postal Service ran a deficit of almost $16 billion, Although new communication technology has decreased the amount of mail delivered, employee benefits are the primary source of its woes. The benefits Congress has required it to pay since 2006 accounted for nearly 70 percent of last year's deficit.