Vyto Starinskas / Staff File Photo
Postal carrier Amy Shelvey didn’t need her winter coat while making her rounds recently in Rutland. The Postal Service has reversed course on a plan to eliminate Saturday mail delivery.
Mail will continue to come Saturdays.
The U.S. Postal Service announced Wednesday it was abandoning a plan to end Saturday mail delivery. Pressure from Congress was cited as the reason for the change of heart. The agency’s governing board made the decision in a closed meeting Tuesday.
With limited options for saving money, the board said the agency should reopen negotiations with unions to lower labor costs and consider raising mail prices.
Yet the board also said it’s not possible for the Postal Service to meet its goals for reduced spending without altering the delivery schedule. Delaying “responsible changes,” the board said, only makes it more likely that the Postal Service “may become a burden” to taxpayers.
Congressional reaction was mixed, mirroring differences that have stalled a needed postal overhaul for some time. Some lawmakers had urged the agency to forge ahead with its plan, while others had said it lacked the legal authority to do so.
Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., was among those welcoming the decision.
“This is good news for rural communities, businesses, seniors, veterans and others who depend on consistent and timely delivery of the mail,” Sanders said Wednesday.
Sanders has argued that the Postal Service’s real problem is a 2006 requirement that the agency pre-fund 75 years of retiree health benefits over a 10-year period — something no other agency does. He attributes 80 percent of the agency’s debt since 2007 to that provision.
Sanders introduced a bill in February that would reverse that policy, try to give the Postal Service new ways of making money through services such as notarizing documents, and create a commission to recommend new revenue streams.
The Postal Service said in February that it planned to eliminate Saturday deliveries for everything except packages beginning in August as a way to hold down costs.
Sanders’ office described objections coming from a number of sectors in Vermont, particularly from ones involving seniors.
Jim Coutts, executive director of the Franklin County Senior Center, said there was a particular concern around private pension checks. While government services have moved toward direct deposit, Coutts said private pensions still come by mail and may arrive on a Saturday.
“A lot of seniors live hand to mouth,” he said. “A difference of a day or two might not mean a lot to you or I, but to a senior living on $700, $800 a month, it could determine whether they go shopping that week.”
Coutts said word that the Postal Service was backing away from the proposal came as a relief.
“One of the things you get — it’s probably an intrinsic value you can’t put your finger on — a lot of people depend on cards and letters,” he said. “Getting the mail is a big deal for seniors. Hearing from their grandchildren, people they communicate with — it’s important to them.”
The agency was asking Congress to drop the longtime ban on five-day-only delivery. Congress did not do that when it passed a spending measure last month.
Disappointed but not wanting to disregard the law, the board directed the Postal Service to delay putting in place the new delivery schedule until Congress passes legislation that gives the agency “the authority to implement a financially appropriate and responsible delivery schedule.”
Postal officials said that to restore the service to long-term financial stability, the agency must have the flexibility to reduce costs and come up with new revenues.
“It is not possible for the Postal Service to meet significant cost-reduction goals without changing its delivery schedule; any rational analysis of our current financial condition and business options leads to this conclusion,” the board’s statement said.
An independent agency, the service gets no tax dollars for its day-to-day operations but is subject to congressional control.
The Postal Service already is executing a major restructuring throughout its retail, delivery and mail processing operations. Since 2006, it has reduced annual costs by approximately $15 billion, cut its workforce by 193,000 or 28 percent, and consolidated more than 200 mail processing locations.
Cutting Saturday mail was expected to save $2 billion.
President Barack Obama’s budget proposal Wednesday includes the same provision as last year on the Postal Service, a plan to let the agency realign its business plan to better compete in the changing marketplace.
The spending blueprint from the budget year that begins Oct. 1 includes a proposal for short-term financial relief and long-term changes at the agency that, it says, will result in more than $20 billion in savings over 10 years.
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