Editor's Note: The Lebanon Democrat staff is releasing this story early on its website to garner feedback from its readers. Please log in and use the comments section below to tell us how you feel about the Postal Service's proposal to cut Saturday mail delivery.
The U.S. Postal Service announced plans to end Saturday mail delivery starting in August while maintaining six-day delivery of packages, a move that faces an unclear future in Congress but doesn’t deter one local newspaper from its mission.
Post officials said the action was critical to keeping the agency solvent. It would be the biggest change in mail delivery since the post office ended twice-daily service in the 1950s.
Although the Postal Service no longer receives taxpayer funds, it remains subject to oversight by Congress, which, since 1983, repeatedly has passed measures requiring six-day delivery.
The Lebanon Democrat, along with its sister papers, Mt. Juliet News and Hartsville Vidette, rely heavily on the Postal Service for delivery of daily and weekly publications to subscribers. Lebanon Publishing Inc. president and publisher Joseph H. Adams said it’s a decision he’s anticipated for some time, and it will not deter readers from getting the area’s favorite newspapers.
“We are both excited and concerned about this opportunity,” Adams said. “We’ve been working on a solution for the better part of a year and a half. We would love to learn from our advertisers and subscribers on what they would want their newspaper to do.”
Adams said the company, which will celebrate its 124th anniversary in business in Lebanon next week, has options of switching Saturday delivery to local carrier routes or possibly switching its daily delivery routes to carrier-based, which would allow subscribers to get their daily newspapers earlier while costing the Postal Service even more money.
Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe's announcement Wednesday appeared to be an effort to force action in Congress after comprehensive postal reform legislation stalled last year.
As email has reduced the need for standard mail delivery, and businesses have shifted to online bill delivery and e-payment systems, postal officials say they have been left with more workers and post offices than the volume of mail can support.
"Our financial condition is urgent," Donahoe said at a news conference, adding that ending letter deliveries on Saturdays would save $2 billion. "We need to operate with greater flexibility, so we can adapt quickly to the changing marketplace."
Americans "value the mail they receive, (but) they like to pay their bills online," Donahoe said.
Package delivery was not curbed because the continued growth of e-commerce has increased the agency's shipping business, up 14 percent since 2010. That makes Saturday package delivery a potential moneymaker.
The postal service needs to find $20 billion in cost reductions and revenue increases to continue to operate, Donahoe said. Already, it has cut its workforce – one of the largest in the country – by 193,000 through attrition. It also has reduced costs by $15 billion by consolidating mail processing facilities, eliminating some 21,000 delivery routes and reducing hours at 9,000 postal facilities across the country.
"Even with these significant cost reductions, we still have a large budget gap to fill," Donahoe said.
The proposal announced Wednesday, which would take effect Aug. 5, aims to reduce the postal workforce by at least another 20,000 employees through reassignment and attrition. It would also significantly reduce overtime payments.
The announcement came with little advance notice to lawmakers, who were preparing to renew an effort to pass postal legislation this year.
While many members of Congress insist they would have to approve the cutback, Donahoe told reporters that the agency believes it can move forward unilaterally. The current mandate for six-day delivery is part of a government funding measure that expires in late March.
Between now and then, "there's plenty of time in there so if there is some disagreement" with lawmakers, "we can get that resolved," he said.
The divide among lawmakers on the issue does not break cleanly along partisan lines. Lawmakers who represent rural areas, who tend to be Republicans, generally have opposed service cutbacks. So have those with strong backing from postal labor unions, mostly Democrats.
Last year, the Senate approved a bill that would have allowed the postal service to end Saturday delivery after a two-year period to evaluate the potential impact. Similar legislation in the House never came up for a vote.
The Obama administration had included a proposal for five-day mail delivery in its 2013 budget plan. White House officials, however, had said they supported that change only in concert with other reforms. White House Spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that officials hadn't yet studied the latest plan.
McClatchy Tribune News Service contributed to this report