Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Post Office Tries to Cut Saturday Delivery — Will Congress Stop Them?

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Earlier today, news broke that the United States Postal Service (USPS) wishes to eliminate mail delivery on Saturday.  (Supposedly, packages will still be delivered, but nothing else.)  This is despite the fact that Congress, as a whole, has opposed eliminating Saturday mail delivery as it would be disastrous for rural communities, as many of the US Representatives have said — including Republican Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas) — along with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont, a long-time US Rep. before ascending to the Senate) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine).

I picked these three members of the US Congress for a reason — none of them, not one, are Democrats.  (Yes, Sanders caucuses with the Ds.  But he still isn’t a D.)  Which shows there’s bipartisan support to keep the Post Office open six days a week, both a sensible and logical decision.

It may not seem like it to those of us who live in cities, but post offices are desperately needed in smaller communities.  There are places with only one post office for the town or municipality (and that one being the only one for miles around).  There are states that are largely rural (Nebraska, for one).  Having mail get delivered only five days per week would be incredibly harmful to Nebraska, much less Alaska . . . especially as in the latter, people get oil mailed as well as food, medication and paychecks.

For that matter, those of you who believe all checks are electronic need to think again, too.  There isn’t always a viable alternative to a paper check, especially if you’re sending in a bill.  Many companies charge you a “convenience fee” to pay by debit card or other electronic means, which is why checks are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.  And if you think your car company, for example, is going to be more likely to give you a break due to your payment being late due to a postal service cutback, think again.

Senator Sanders was blunt about the impact of these potential cutbacks, especially considering how a bill he’d proposed last year passed the Senate with ease — but was never taken up whatsoever by the House:

“Providing fewer services and less quality will cause more customers to seek other options.  Rural Americans, businesses, senior citizens and veterans will be hurt by ending Saturday mail,” Sanders added.

Amen, brother!  Amen.

While the Los Angeles Times article about the proposed cutbacks pointed out another possible reason for the USPS to make this announcement at this particular time:

The announcement came with little advance notice to lawmakers, who were preparing to renew an effort to pass postal legislation this year.

Though many members of Congress insist they would have to approve the cutback, Donahoe told reporters that the agency believes it can move forward unilaterally. The current mandate for six-day delivery is part of a government funding measure that expires in late March.

“There’s plenty of time in there so if there is some disagreement” with lawmakers, “we can get that resolved,” he said.

Or in other words, the USPS did this to force the Congress to act.

Here’s the main problem with the USPS, folks.  It’s that the Congress requires the Post Office to pre-fund retirements and health care fees for seventy-five years.  (No misprint.)  No other company in the world is forced to do such a thing, yet the Congress put this onerous burden on the Postal Service because it helps the Congress mask the deficit a little bit.

As the Huffington Post article says:

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.

So because the Congress has “fuzzy math skills,” the rest of us get screwed.  (How typical.)

My view is simple: The Post Office should not eliminate Saturday delivery.  The main reason for this is logistical.  Right now on Mondays, there’s twice as much mail to be delivered.  With the possible elimination of Saturday delivery as well, there would be three times as much mail to be delivered — but with the same amount of carriers.  What sense does this make?

The US Senate plan, which was passed in April of 2012, should be followed.  There should be a two-year moratorium placed on the Post Office eliminating one day a week from their delivery system, while every other way of cutting costs should be pursued.  (Let’s hope the Senate will include rolling back the onerous requirement of pre-funding retirements and health care costs for seventy-five years, as that’s the main reason why the USPS is so far in the red.)

At the end of two years, if there’s no other way to proceed, then a day should be picked in the middle of the week to eliminate as that would be likely to be less harmful than the elimination of Saturday delivery.

So the way to fix the current problem is this — the US House of Reps needs to act.  They need to pass a bill that goes along with the bill that has already passed the Senate in order to keep the USPS from unilaterally acting in a way that would be seriously harmful to rural residents.

Or as Senator Sanders said in his press release:

“The postmaster general cannot save the Postal Service by ending one of its major competitive advantages.  Cutting six-day delivery is not a viable plan for the future.  It will lead to a death spiral that will harm rural America while doing very little to improve the financial condition of the Postal Service,” Sanders said.

So, the USPS has shown its hand.  Many are upset about it, including Sens. Sanders and Collins and Rep. Crawford, the President of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Fredric Rolando,  and talk show host and MSNBC analyst Ed Schultz.

(And if you haven’t guessed yet that I’m upset as well, you need to up your reading comprehension skills a bit.  Seriously.)

Now, will the Congress as a whole act?  Or will they do what they’ve generally done for the past four or five years — sit on their butts, point fingers, and otherwise be useless wastes of time and space who are getting paid for what seems like very little reason?

It’s all down to you, Congress.

Act responsibly.  (Please.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 6, 2013 at 10:00 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Well, Barb, all I can say is that, to my recollection (Neil may provide a longer timeline that could dispute this assertion), here in Alberta, and IIRC, Southern Saskatchewan, we’ve not had Saturday delivery at any time in the past 40+ years. And we’ve not really missed it.

    But then, Canadians are a more technologically adoptive people than out neighbours to the south, so we’ve recently lightened the mail burden on the carriers.

    William Katzell

    February 6, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    • LOL, William! 🙂 (To the last, not necessarily to the substance of your comments.)

      I know Edmonton is a big city, and you’re more or less from there. I also know that much of Alberta is rural. What I’d like to know is how the rural folks who live in Alberta handle medication — we get a lot of medicine sent through the mail that may not even be a factor for you in Canada due to the Canadian health care system — and what happens to payments if you’ve sent them in, but your due date falls on a Saturday? (Do the car companies give you a few days’ grace? Or do they just hit you with a late fee and say, “Too bad, so sad?”)

      And in Alaska — which I suppose part of the Yukon Territory would be the best analogue for you as a Canadian (though I know you are conversant with Alaska, too, easily as much as I am) — where they get food and oil through the mail (Nebraskans, too, get food in the mail as much of that state is rural also) — what do the folks in the Yukon do when they have to wait over the weekend for food, mail, and/or medication?

      Plus, not every check that’s sent gets sent electronically. Perhaps they all should be, but people can have trouble with starting bank accounts in the US. (You may remember me discussing this once upon a time.) Or maybe you’re changing banks, and the old bank account is closed so your electronic payment bounces out. Or there’s just a system glitch, so you have no money — so a check is processed and sent to you, maybe at work, maybe at home.

      In all of these cases, the mail is still relevant, as the whole world is not virtual. (Maybe it would be better off if it were. But as it isn’t, we have to deal with economic reality.)

      Plus, if you are lower middle class or below — right now I’m *well* below — economically, you’re in worse shape and depend on the post office more than anyone else (as you _can’t_ afford the “convenience fees” for sending money electronically as money is too tight for that, and you _can’t_ insist on everyone sending you money via electronic means if you’re a contractor, as you’re just grateful to get the work).

      Barb Caffrey

      February 7, 2013 at 12:05 am

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