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AS I SEE IT

Posted 10/26/11 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

How many businesses can survive in today’s economy by shutting offices and reducing service? Not many. But that is just what the U.S. Postal Service (U.S.P.S.) wants to do in an effort to reign in its $10 billion deficit.
Granted, the Postal Service needs to address a lot of issues to help it regain its financial solvency. Some of the ideas being floated by the U.S.P.S., members of Congress, as well as the White House, include raising the price of the postage stamp, reducing the number of postal service jobs, shutting down some 3,700 post offices and consolidating processing centers. And then there is the proposal to reduce the number of days that postal customers receive mail from six to five days.
The financial problems facing the postal system are even more complex when you take into consideration that the agency must also pay $5.5 billion annually into a fund designed to cover the medical benefits for retired employees in the future. While the post office is not part of the federal budget, the fund receiving the payment is, so it counts as income to the government, making the federal deficit appear $5.5 billion smaller. Thus, eliminating the payment would make the deficit seem bigger, so there has been a reluctance on the part of federal “bean counters” to drop it.
But the financial problems facing the U.S.P.S. are very real. And the problems deserve more than just a knee-jerk reaction.
Reducing mail service by closing post offices and then further reducing mail service to five days a week at a time when the volume of mail entering the postal system is plummeting is pound foolish. Such a move would only further erode the postal system’s customer base at a time when it needs them.
While the Postal Service claims that it will save $3 billion annually by eliminating Saturday mail delivery, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) reported that the net savings would only be $1.7 billion.
Further, according to the PRC, reducing mail service to five days a week would delay the delivery of First Class mail by two days with rural mail customers being most affected.
In addition, with fewer days of mail delivery, the backlog of mail would only increase as mail that was once delivered on Saturday would not be delivered until Mondays. As a result, companies that once used the mail service would accelerate their efforts of doing their business electronically.
A healthy Postal Service is vital to Americans who depend on timely, affordable, reliable mail delivery. And that mail delivery needs to remain at six days a week.
Rather than reducing service, the Postal Service and Congress need to address structural issues such as controlling costs and optimizing mail processing. If these fundamental issues aren’t adequately addressed now, it doesn’t make any difference how many days a week there is mail service. There won’t be any mail to deliver.