The financially struggling U.S. Postal Service said Wednesday it will stop delivering mail on Saturdays but continue to disburse packages six days a week, an apparent end-run around an unaccommodating Congress.
The service expects the Saturday mail cutback to begin the week of Aug. 5 and to save about $2 billion annually, said Postmaster General and CEO Patrick R. Donahoe.
The move 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 declined with the increasing use of Internet services.
Under the new plan, mail would be delivered to homes and businesses only from Monday through Friday, but 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, but Congress declined to approve the measure. Though an independent agency, the service gets no tax dollars for day-to-day operations but is subject to congressional control.
Congress has included a ban on five-day delivery in its appropriations bill, but because the federal government is currently operating under a temporary spending measure, Donahoe said the agency has the power to make the change itself.
The issue of Saturday delivery is contentious in rural parts of the country, including northwest Missouri, where the service threatened to shutter hundreds of small-town post offices in 2011 before relenting last May, opting instead to close numerous processing centers in larger cities.
Under the initial plan, retail postal facilities in the Nodaway County communities of Pickering, Clearmont, Parnell, Clyde, Guilford and Graham would have shut down.
U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, whose district includes Nodaway County, issued a statement Wednesday opposing elimination of Saturday delivery and predicting the move could be a prelude to further reductions.
"I do not support the United States Postal Service plan to end Saturday delivery," Graves said. "The USPS does need reform, however, reducing core services is not a long-term plan. I worry that reducing services will lead to other reductions like closing rural post offices.
"There is still a large group of people – particularly in rural areas – whose lifeline to the outside world is the Postal Service. Whether it’s their social security check, an important document or even just a card from a loved one.
I’ve introduced a sense of Congress, asking the postal service to keep mail delivery at 6 days a week."
A "sense of Congress" is a non-binding resolution meant to express lawmakers' support for or displeasure with a specific issue.
Opposition from some quarters of Capitol Hill notwithstanding, the Postal Service maintains it has a majority of the public on its side.
Page 2 of 2 - The agency cites market research indicating that nearly 7 in 10 Americans support the switch to five-day delivery as a way for the Postal Service to reduce costs. Some lawmakers appear to agree with that assessment.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Ranking Member Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said in a joint statement they had sent House and Senate leaders a letter calling elimination of Saturday delivery "common-sense reform."
As for the impact on USPS personnel, Postmaster Donahoe said the change would mean a combination of employee reassignment and attrition and is expected to achieve cost savings of approximately $2 billion annually.
Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, called the end of Saturday mail delivery "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 and the disabled.