Postal Service cuts Saturday mail delivery

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 6, 2013 

Saturday mail may soon be a thing of the past.

The U.S. Postal Service announced Wednesday it will cut Saturday delivery service starting Aug. 5, a move expected to save about $2 billion a year.

Delivery of packages would continue six days a week, and the proposed plan won't affect office lobby hours or post office box deliveries, the struggling agency said.

Augustine Ruiz, a postal spokesperson for the Sacramento district, said the post office lost 22 percent of its overall mail volume in the last four years.

"When you lose that much volume, the revenue goes with it," Ruiz said. "So we have to cut our costs wherever we can. We have to find a way to stay in business and this is one of the ways,"

The Postal Service lost about $15.9 billion in the past budget year, Ruiz said, attributing a big chunk of the loss to a pre-funding requirement.

On top of the annual $2.5 billion the agency sets aside for employee retirement health benefits, the Postal Service is required to pay an additional $5.5 billion to pre-fund the retirement of future employees.

"No other federal agency or private company has ever had to do that," Ruiz noted.

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," Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said.

The announcement has many local post office workers wondering how the change in service could affect them.

A supervisor at the M Street office said he's most concerned that the cutback could result in a loss of local jobs.

Ruiz said the move to eliminate Saturday service would not result in a loss of postal jobs because the agency estimates about 40,000 workers will retire this year.

However, about 22,000 to 25,000 employees could be impacted by having to relocate to another office, Ruiz said.

John Pedrozo, Merced County District 1 Supervisor, said the cutback is "unfortunate" but affects all communities, not just Merced County.

"I don't think it will be any worse here than it is anywhere else," Pedrozo said. "I'm sure it's going to be inconvenient, but they do have a big deficit, and they're trying to cut corners just like everyone else."

Pedrozo said he doesn't want to see any post office locations close in the county.

Losing mail service on Saturday might have a positive impact on some Merced County businesses.

Megan Greer, a manager at the UPS store in Los Banos, said business has been growing on Saturdays since the Los Banos post office closed.

"That increased business in itself, so I can just imagine if they stopped delivering on Saturday -- I'm sure it would increase business," Greer said. "Whether it's waiting for that next check or a birthday card, smaller communities rely on the mail. It affects everything we do."

Over the past several years, the Postal Service has advocated shifting to a five-day delivery schedule for mail and has repeatedly appealed to Congress for approval. The attempts have been unsuccessful.

But postal spokesperson Ruiz said the agency now feels it can act on its own request.

"We feel we are within our authority to make this move on our own," he said. "The harder mountain to move was Congress, but we've been letting them know what we need assistance with, including the flexibility of setting our own business model."

Ruiz said he understands rural communities, like Merced County, are more attached to post office services. And although the announcement brought some criticism from farmers and the letter carriers' union -- not many customers are objecting.

"The everyday user of the postal service doesn't see a big problem with it and has universally supported it," Ruiz said. "Saturday is the lightest volume day, and a third of all businesses are closed."

Merced County Farm Bureau Executive Director Amanda Carvajal said the bureau supports providing essential mail service to rural areas,

"But we understand that the Postal Service has been losing money, and we would not oppose discontinuing Saturday mail delivery if that turns out to be an economic advantage," Carvajal said.

Over the past several years, the Postal Service has advocated shifting to a five-day delivery schedule for mail and packages -- and it repeatedly but unsuccessfully has appealed to Congress to approve the move. An independent agency, the service gets no tax dollars for its day-to-day operations but is subject to congressional control.

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, Postmaster Donahoe says it's the agency's interpretation that it can make the change itself.

"This is not like a 'gotcha' or anything like that," Donahoe said. 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," Donahoe said. "I can't speak for Congress."

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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