Future Of Saturday Mail, 14 Post Offices Uncertain

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(Host) The US Postal Service has cut its workforce and this summer postal officials announced a proposal to close over 3,600 post offices nationwide – 14 in Vermont.  

And just this week, President Obama said he backed a proposal to raise postage rates and end Saturday mail delivery.  

It’s part of a massive effort to keep the postal service afloat. But as VPR’s Nina Keck reports, it’s unclear what lawmakers will approve.

(Keck) The small white post office in Pittsford is not one that’s been singled out for closure.  That’s a good thing say local residents who were shopping at Kamuda’s Country Market next door.

But, how would they feel about losing Saturday mail delivery?

(Filmore) "I’m Ashley Filmore, I was born in Shrewsbury, but I now live in Chittenden. Honestly, I’d be pretty bummed.    Cuz I don’t usually get a lot of mail, but my Netflix comes on Saturday and if they didn’t come I’d be out a movie for the weekend."

(Keck) Pittsford resident Suzanne Wood sees it differently.

(Wood)  "When you think about what it costs to mail a letter, if it brings the cost down, so be it – that’s good for everybody."

(Keck)  Tom Rizzo is a spokesman for the U.S. postal service and says drastic cuts are necessary.

(Rizzo )  "The postal service is projected to lose as much as $10 billion  this year and by reducing deliveries from six days to five the postal service looks to save as much as $3.1 billion."

(Keck)  But why is the postal service so deeply in debt in the first place? For one thing, people have been buying fewer stamps – paying their bills and communicating on-line instead of by mail. That’s important because the postal service funds itself and doesn’t receive any money from taxpayers.    

The recession, rising gas and health care costs have also been a factor.  But Tom Rizzo says some recent federal mandates are also to blame. He says the postal system has been forced to over-fund its employee pension program – to the tune of $75 billion. It’s also had to pay $5.5 billion a year to fund future retiree benefits.

(Rizzo) "And that’s really a very difficult and unique burden for the postal service to have to bear."

(Keck) Earlier this month, the U.S. Postmaster General told Congress that unless they act quickly, the postal service will run out of money by the end of September.    

Vermont Congressman Peter Welch is a member of the House Committee, which oversees the Postal Service.  He’s cosponsored legislation that he says would solve some of the pension issues. But Welch says people have to remember, that unlike private companies like Fed Ex or UPS, the postal service is obligated to deliver all kinds of mail in all parts of the country – even rural areas that are not as profitable.  And he says cutting delivery on Saturdays will do more harm than good.

(Welch) "The postal service is already competing with one hand behind its back. So if you take away something that is really an advantage for them – for the price of a first class stamp they can deliver something that’s mailed on Friday to you on Saturday.  That’s a competitive advantage that they have.  And then if you start nibbling away at the unique services that the post office does provide – you’ll really going to undercut the ability of the postal service all together. "

(Keck)  Lawmakers have yet to vote.  Welch says that while the republic majority in the House will likely opt to cut Saturday mail delivery.  He admits there’s also an urban rural divide in Congress that he says makes the vote harder to call.    

For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck.

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