The Commercial Appeal

USPS set to end Saturday letters in August

But delivery of packages will continue

- From wire and staff reports

WASHINGTON — Saturday mail may soon go the way of the Pony Express and penny postcards. The Postal Service said Wednesday that it plans to cut back to five-day-a-week deliveries for everything except packages to stem its financial losses in a world radically reordered by the Internet.

“Our financial condition is urgent,” declared Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe.

The Postal Service, which suffered a $15.9 billion loss in the past budget year, said it expected to save $2 billion annually with the Saturday cutback. Mail such as letters and magazines would be affected. Delivery of packages of all sizes would continue six days a week.

The plan, which is to take effect in August, 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. E-mail 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,” Donahoe said.

The Postal Service plan brought immediate criticism from politician­s, farmers and the letter carriers’ union.

Others, like Mark Weber, owner of The Mail Center in Memphis, said the loss of Saturday service won’t have much of an effect. Packages will still be delivered and letter mail will still be delivered to customers with P.O. boxes, like those in his store. But Weber knows the move will generate even more grumbling about the Postal Service and that doesn’t square with him.

“Where can you send a letter for 46 cents to Seattle or Anchorage or Honolulu and get pretty good service given what you’re sending and for that cost?” Weber said. “You cannot. If you think FedEx and UPS are going to do it for 46 cents, you’re sadly mistaken.”

Mike Baber, president of Memphis-based Baber Direct Marketing, uses the Postal Service frequently to send direct-mail advertisem­ents for clients. Discontinu­ed Saturday delivery “is not going to affect my business at all.” “I’m not going to tell any of my clients to not use direct mail because in-home delivery is not available on Saturdays,” Baber said.

Memphis-based FedEx, which carries more than 4 million pounds of U.S. mail daily under contract with the Postal Service, said it is “too early to say precisely” what the eventual impact would be of the Saturday delivery changes.

Much of the Postal Service mail flows through the FedEx Express world hub in Memphis, putting FedEx planes, people and facilities to work in the daytime lull between overnight peaks. FedEx also contracts with the Postal Service for lastmile delivery of packages by FedEx SmartPost.

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. The independen­t agency gets no tax dollars for day-to-day operations but is subject to congressio­nal control.

It was not immediatel­y clear how the service could eliminate Saturday mail without congressio­nal approval. And some lawmakers, including U. S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., indicated they will seek to block the move.

“Access to reliable postal service is the lifeline my rural constituen­ts rely on for medical deliveries, their Social Security benefits and business needs,” Crawford said. Other lawmakers, however, said the move, while regrettabl­e, appeared to make sense.

Memphis’ Democratic Congressma­n Steve Cohen said Wednesday’s announceme­nt is “probably a first step to what will eventually be cutting back on some employees,” which he called “a disappoint­ing thing.”

But Cohen said he understand­s operations like FedEx and UPS and e-mail have cut into the Postal Service’s volume, as have certain behaviors. “People don’t write letters any more,” Cohen said.

U. S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss, said, “The fact of the matter is the post office needs flexibilit­y if it is going to survive in the 21st century world of e-mails, FedEx and UPS.

U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., noted the Postal Service has been “struggling financiall­y to keep up for years” and is “doing its best to meet the changing times.”

One strong rebuke to the Postal Service plan came from its employees.

American Postal Workers Union president Cliff Guffey, whose members represent sorting employees, not letter carriers, condemned the Saturday delivery decision.

“USPS executives cannot save the Postal Service by tearing it apart,” he said in a statement. “These across-the-board cutbacks will weaken the nation’s mail system and put it on a path to privatizat­ion.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States