Kansans react to Postal Service plan to cancel Saturday mail

02/07/2013 7:18 AM

02/07/2013 9:43 AM

Many Kansas businesses give a hearty shrug to the U.S. Postal Service’s announcement that it plans to stop home delivery of letters and magazines on Saturdays.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Nancy Lawrence, owner of Central Plains Novelty and president of Historic Delano Inc.

“If we don’t get it on Saturday, we’re going to get it on Monday. I think it’s a great move they should have done years ago.”

For years, Congress has blocked the Postal Service’s desire to trim Saturday service to save money.

But on Wednesday, the Postal Service announced that it planned to go ahead with cutting Saturday home delivery for regular mail, although it would continue to deliver packages and deliver mail to post offices, which would remain open on Saturday. The plan, which would go into effect in August, would save about $2 billion a year.

It was not immediately clear whether the Postal Service could act without congressional approval.

The president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Fredric Rolando, 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 and the elderly.

Especially seniors.

“It’s one of the fastest-growing populations as far as getting Internet savvy,” said Dan Goodman at the Johnson County Agency on Aging. “But there are a lot of seniors who prefer to get their communication through the mail.”

But many businesses said they don’t value Saturday service. Either they’re closed on Saturday, rely on electronic transactions or it just isn’t that important, they say.

Even Bryan Pulliam, whose Wichita company, Postal Presort, helps companies with large volumes of outgoing mail, said his business isn’t affected.

Historically, he said, 20 percent of the mail generated in south-central Kansas goes through his operation, but he operates during the week.

The Postal Service’s move might push more companies away from using the mail, Pulliam said, but he didn’t think it would be significant. In fact, he thinks the move is long overdue.

“We have believed that they should have dropped Saturday delivery 10 or 15 years ago, but Congress wouldn’t let them,” he said.

But some businesses still rely heavily on regular mail service, including on Saturday.

The Garden City Telegram newspaper switched a year ago from paper carriers to mail to improve delivery.

Publisher Dena Sattler said she knew the Postal Service’s move was a possibility. She hopes it won’t be allowed to happen, but said she is working on alternatives for Saturday delivery.

“This won’t disrupt our readers,” she said.

On Wednesday, response from members of Congress was mixed.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran said in a statement Wednesday that he was against the move and that it’s time for Congress to better support the Postal Service.

“Eliminating Saturday mail delivery is not a solution that will solve their financial crisis as a whole,” he said in the statement. “After numerous meetings with the Postmaster General, I know smart reforms are needed to make certain the Postal Service can compete in a digital world, increase revenue, and not become a taxpayer liability.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, in a statement, said the delivery cut was beside the point.

“This change only hurts ordinary Kansans while ignoring the real cause of the postal system’s financial calamity: unaffordable union labor agreements.”

The agency in November reported an annual loss of a record $15.9 billion for the last budget year and forecast more red ink in 2013, capping a tumultuous year in which it was forced to default on billions in retiree health benefit prepayments to avert bankruptcy.

The agency’s biggest problem – and the majority of the red ink in 2012 – was due to congressionally-mandated costs for future retiree health benefits, which made up $11.1 billion of the losses.

No other government agency is required to make such a payment for future medical benefits. Postal authorities wanted Congress to address the issue last year, but lawmakers failed to do so.

Without that and other related labor expenses, the mail agency sustained an operating loss of $2.4 billion, lower than the previous year.

The Postal Service has been restructuring its retail, delivery and mail processing operations. Since 2006, it has cut annual costs by about $15 billion, reduced the size of its career work force by 193,000 or by 28 percent, and has consolidated more than 200 mail processing locations, officials say.

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. Though an independent agency, the service gets no tax dollars for its day-to-day operations but is subject to congressional control.

But the agency thinks it has a majority of Americans on its side.

The change would mean a combination of employee reassignment and attrition and is expected to achieve cost savings of approximately $2 billion annually when fully implemented, officials said.

Malcolm Harris, a finance professor at Friends University and former economist for the Postal Service, agreed that Congress has put the Postal Service in a straight jacket.

“Given the amount of money the Postal Service has lost in the last few years, there’s a real question as to what their future is,” he said. “We’ve always assumed the Postal Service will always be there. It’s one of the institutions of our society. But it also has to run competitively.”

Contributing: Associated Press, Kansas City Star and Molly McMillin of The Eagle

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