Inquirer Editorial: Poison pill for post offices

Posted: December 08, 2011

The U.S. Postal Service plan to delay first-class letters a full day, while eliminating thousands of mail handlers' jobs, will only make USPS services less appealing to customers.

Like the perennial proposals to eliminate Saturday mail delivery, this plan needs to be rethought. It's a short-term fix that will save $3 billion, but not the needed long-range solution for the quasi-governmental agency that faces a $14 billion loss this fiscal year.

Sure, there are dire challenges to traditional mail service posed by electronic communication - be it e-mail, text messages, or online purchasing. But a relentless strategy of postal cutbacks risks triggering a downward spiral that could only hasten a feared bankruptcy for this vital agency, which receives no taxpayer help.

Certainly, the Postal Regulatory Commission's required review of plans to effectively end next-day service for first-class letters and close dozens of regional sorting facilities must be undertaken with a critical look at the broader impacts.

For 40 percent of Americans who still pay their bills by mail, slower mail service could well mean more late fees. For businesses that rightfully rely on the Postal Service to reach customers, an extra day certainly will pose logistical woes and added costs.

On the employment front, closing sorting centers such as those in Tredyffrin Township in Chester County and Bellmawr in Camden County would idle a total of 1,600 people in this region alone - a scenario that would be played out in dozens of communities nationally at a time of high joblessness.

Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe is right that he needs help from Congress, but not by way of easing the six-day delivery mandate. More reasonable is a plan to let the agency claw back $7 billion in overpayments made toward employee pensions.

Donahoe's goal is to trim $20 billion in expenses from the USPS by 2015, which would lead to profitability for the first time in recent years. That's even as the demand for first-class mail - the Postal Service's big moneymaker - is expected to shrink further.

Holding out on moving away from six-day delivery is the more sensible stance of U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D., Del.), who chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees the USPS. He suggests lawmakers should look for ways to help the Postal Service's bottom line by removing other restraints - such as permitting post offices to offer new products and services that could generate revenue.

With first-class rates set to rise by only a penny in January despite the agency's fiscal crisis, it's obvious that the federal law capping postal rate hikes to the level of inflation makes less and less sense, and should be eased.

For their part, postal customers must be willing to pay more than they are accustomed to in order to stave off cutbacks that would reduce first-class mail delivery standards to an unacceptable level.

|
|
|
|
|