The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 7, 2013

Local reaction to Postal Service’s Saturday plan mixed

By Wally Kennedy

JOPLIN, Mo. — The end of Saturday mail delivery won’t have much of an impact on Betty Burrows, a resident of Baxter Springs, Kan., who serves as the town’s librarian.

“Half the time on Saturdays, I forget to look in the mailbox anyway,” she said with a shrug.

But, if doing without Saturday mail helps the U.S. Postal Service’s bottom line, it’s worth it, she said.

“If it helps them out, that’s wonderful,” she said.

Burrows is not alone in that opinion. Market research indicates that nearly 7 in 10 Americans support the switch to five-day delivery as a way for the Postal Service to reduce costs.

On Wednesday, the financially struggling Postal Service said it will stop delivering mail on Saturdays, but will continue to disburse packages six days a week. The cutback, set to begin the week of Aug. 5, could save the agency about $2 billion annually, according to Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe.

The announcement is causing some businesses that rely on Saturday mail delivery, such as the newspaper industry, to look at ways to continue providing a timely product without the mail service. But, for the most part, the loss of Saturday mail service is not that big of a deal to many.

Dave Cook, who works in information technology in Joplin, said he wasn’t surprised to hear that the Postal Service, given its financial woes, was proposing to stop Saturday mail delivery. He said the move would not make a difference to him.

“It’s just bills that come (on Saturdays), so that’s, like, 17 percent less bills,” he joked. “But it makes Mondays worse.”

Isabel Gonzalez, of Joplin, said she isn’t bothered by the announcement and would even support the plan if it would save the Postal Service money or if it could provide a boost to the sluggish economy.

“It’s only one day we’re missing,” she said. “They’re spending too much money delivering mail on weekends when people can wait until Monday.”

Loretta Bailey, an agent for Allstate Insurance in Joplin, said: “It’s going to take a little longer to get important mail that is sent on Friday, but other than that, it should not have much of an effect on our business.”

An example of an important piece of mail, she said, would be an insurance identification card.

Beverly Wardlaw, manager of Suzanne’s Natural Foods, 3106 S. Connecticut Ave., said: “As far as mail goes, we’re good. I don’t anticipate any impact.”

But the business does get part of its inventory — “not a lot, but some” — through the mail, and that’s important to the operation.

“As long as we’re getting our inventory, as long as we’re getting our packages (on Saturdays),” Wardlaw said. “We count on having our inventory as quickly as possible. If we miss even one sale, it impacts us.”

Under the plan, mail would be delivered to homes and businesses Monday through Friday, and it would still be delivered to post office boxes on Saturdays. Post offices now open on Saturdays would remain open on Saturdays.

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 appealed to Congress to approve the move. It is an independent agency that gets no tax dollars for its day-to-day operations, but the service is subject to congressional control.

Congress has included a ban on five-day delivery in its appropriations bill. But because the federal government is now operating under a temporary spending measure, rather than an appropriations bill, it’s the agency’s interpretation that it can make the change itself.

The agency is essentially asking Congress not to reimpose the ban when the spending measure expires on March 27. Donahoe he said he would work with Congress on the issue.

Whether the Postal Service has the legislative authority to take action on its own remains to be seen. The plan, some say, is an end-run maneuver around Congress.

Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said the end of Saturday mail delivery is “a disastrous idea that would have a profoundly negative effect on the Postal Service and on millions of customers,” particularly businesses, rural communities, the elderly, the disabled and others who depend on Saturday delivery.

He said the proposed change “flouts the will of Congress, as expressed annually over the past 30 years in legislation that mandates six-day delivery.”

The change would mean a combination of employee reassignment and attrition to achieve cost savings of about $2 billion annually when the plan is fully implemented.

Richard Watkins, spokesman for the district office of the Postal Service in Kansas City, said about 20,000 to 25,000 Postal Service employees nationwide would be affected by the plan.

Watkins said the work force reduction started in 2006. Since then, 193,000 employees have been shed through attrition, buyouts and financial incentives. That approach will continue, he said.

“We will continue to work with the unions to minimize the impact on employees,” Watkins said. “This is only one step in many to get back on a sound financial footing.”

Work force reduction has been necessary, he said, “because our workload has declined. Our carriers know their mail satchels have gotten lighter over the years. But our package services have increased because of online sales. We want to continue to grow that segment of the market.”

Package delivery has increased by 14 percent since 2010. The delivery of letters, on the other hand, has declined with the increasing use of email and other Internet services.

So far, public reaction to the plan has been favorable, Watkins said.

“So far, it’s been only anecdotal, but very positive,” he said. “We knew this going in. Both residential and commercial mailers would rather see us to do this than more drastic measures, such as increasing the price of postage or closing post offices. We feel people will adapt to this change.”

The Postal Service made the announcement Wednesday, six months before the switch, to give residential and business customers time to plan and adjust.

Newspapers will be among those needing to adjust their business plans. If Saturday mail delivery goes away, newspapers that are entered into the mail stream on Friday won’t reach home subscribers until Monday.

Michael Beatty, publisher of The Joplin Globe, said a small number of the Globe’s subscribers, mostly in rural areas, receive their newspaper by mail.

“But these are among our most loyal subscribers, and we plan to take care of them,” he said. “We are adjusting our business plan so this will have a minimal effect on our readers and the delivery of our product on Saturdays.”

Doug Crews, director of the Missouri Press Association in Columbia, said in an email statement: “I believe the elimination of Saturday mail delivery will force some newspapers out of the mail stream as they turn to alternative delivery methods.

“I’m concerned that businesses, such as newspapers, that depend on the post office to deliver invoices to customers and that depend on the post office to deliver checks and payments for their business services, will see a slowdown in their businesses’ cash flow. Eliminating six-day delivery in turn will eliminate postal customers and further decrease postal revenue.”

He said newspapers in many communities are among the biggest customers of the local post office.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.

More red ink

THE POSTAL SERVICE in November reported an annual loss of a record $15.9 billion for the last budget year, and it forecast more red ink in 2013.

THE AGENCY’S BIGGEST PROBLEM — and the majority of the red ink in 2012 — is mounting mandatory costs for future retiree health benefits, which made up $11.1 billion of the losses. Without that and other related labor expenses, the mail agency sustained an operating loss of $2.4 billion, lower than that of the previous year.

THE HEALTH PAYMENTS are a requirement imposed by Congress in 2006 that the Postal Service set aside $55 billion in an account to cover future medical costs for retirees. No other government agency is required to make such a payment for future medical benefits.

Source: The Associated Press