Postal Service planning to cut to five days a week

Kevin Pownall delivering mail in Philadelphia. The financially struggling Postal Service plans to halt Saturday mail delivery starting in August, though Congress may have other ideas.
Kevin Pownall delivering mail in Philadelphia. The financially struggling Postal Service plans to halt Saturday mail delivery starting in August, though Congress may have other ideas. (MATT ROURKE / AP, File)
Posted: February 08, 2013

WASHINGTON - The financially struggling Postal Service announced Wednesday that it plans to stop delivering mail on Saturdays starting Aug. 1 - but will continue delivering packages.

Unless forbidden to do so by Congress, which has moved in the past to prohibit a reduction to five-day-a-week delivery, the agency for the first time will deliver mail only Monday through Friday. The move will save about $2 billion a year for the Postal Service, which has suffered tens of billions of dollars in losses in recent years with the advent of the Internet and e-commerce, officials said.

"The American public understands the financial challenges of the Postal Service and supports these steps as a responsible and reasonable approach to improving our financial situation," Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said at a news conference. "The Postal Service has a responsibility to take the steps necessary to return to long-term financial stability and ensure the continued affordability of the U.S. mail."

The postal service plans to continue Saturday delivery of packages, which remains a profitable and growing part of the delivery business. Post offices would remain open Saturdays so that customers could drop off mail or packages, buy postage stamps, or access their post office boxes, officials said. But hours likely would be reduced at thousands of smaller locations, they said.

The Postal Service said it suffered a $15.9 billion net loss for fiscal 2012, which ended Sept. 30. That's three times the loss recorded a year earlier.

The Postal Service has pushed to cancel Saturday mail for years. It announced the decision Wednesday without congressional approval, even though lawmakers have argued their consent is necessary.

The proposed change is based on what appears to be a legal loophole - and that may be a gamble. Congress has long included a ban on five-day-only delivery in its spending bills, but because the federal government is now operating under a temporary spending measure rather than an appropriations bill, Donahoe says it's the agency's interpretation that it can make the change itself.

The agency essentially wants Congress to keep the ban out of any new spending bill after the temporary measure expires March 27.

Might Congress try to block the idea?

"Let's see what happens," he said. "I can't speak for Congress."

President Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, said the White House learned only Tuesday about the agency's decision. He said the White House was still evaluating the decision but would have preferred its own overhaul package that failed to pass Congress last year be adopted "for the sake of a stronger future Postal Service."

Sen. Thomas Carper (D., Del.), who has cosponsored legislation in the past to reform postal services, said in a statement that he was "disappointed" that the Postal Service acted without congressional approval but also understood that change was urgently needed.

Two Republican lawmakers said they had sent a letter to leaders of the House and Senate in support of the elimination of Saturday mail. It's "common-sense reform," wrote Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

A majority of Americans support ending Saturday mail, according to national polls conducted in recent years, and Obama has proposed halting deliveries as part of his budget-cutting proposals. Though the Postal Service is a quasi-governmental, self-funding entity, its worker compensation and retirement plans are tied to the federal budget.

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. The publishing industry also has complained that any changes would force quicker magazine publication deadlines and require some publishers to seek private delivery options instead.

Jeannette Dwyer, president of the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, said the announcement amounts to "yet another death knell for the quality service provided by the U.S. Postal Service."

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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