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No mail service on Saturdays? Not to worry

Politicians seem upset, few others

Wednesday, February 6, 2013
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The Scotia Post Office on Mohawk Avenue in Scotia.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
The Scotia Post Office on Mohawk Avenue in Scotia.

— Many people had low-key reactions Wednesday to word that the U.S. Postal Service plans to stop delivering mail on Saturdays, but local members of Congress oppose the move.

The service reduction, scheduled to take effect the week of Aug. 5, will save the financially strapped USPS about $2 billion annually, said Postmaster General and CEO Patrick R. Donahoe.

Local post office lobbies that are open Saturdays will continue to be open, and behind-the-scenes delivery operations will continue. Rented postal boxes at post offices will still be filled.

“If people have mail they want to have picked up, that’s not going to happen,” said Ralph DeLuke, owner of the Mail ‘n’ More store in Burnt Hills. “They’ll have to go to the post office or come to a place like this, knowing I will get it to the post office.”

Under the Postal Service plan, mail would be delivered to homes and businesses Monday through Friday only. Packages — including mailed pharmaceutical products — would still be delivered, alleviating some of the potential concerns.

Postal officials said they made the announcement six months in advance so people will have time to adjust.

Postal Service package delivery has been increasing in recent years, while the overall volume of first-class mail is in decline, thanks to people using email and the Internet.

Among those who will be affected are newspapers and magazines that are delivered by mail, some of which time their deliveries to reach subscribers on weekends. Customers who use Netflix’ DVD-by-mail service may also see delivery delays.

Businesses probably won’t feel much impact, said Mark Eagan, president of the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“The majority of businesses are going to favor this,” Eagan said. “They’re going to look at this and commend the Postal Service for realizing that the way to balance their budget is not to keep raising rates.”

But some businesses handle large volumes of time-sensitive mail.

“We believe the Postal Service should at least continue to postmark and internally process mail on Saturday to ensure our customers are able to send critical mail to us within three days,” said Arlene Lester, a spokeswoman for State Farm Insurance, which has a regional administrative headquarters in Malta where about 1,000 people work.

Over the past several years, the Postal Service has pushed for permission for five-day delivery, but has failed to get congressional approval. Though an independent agency that doesn’t directly receive tax dollars, the Postal Service is subject to congressional control.

Congress included a ban on five-day delivery in its last appropriations bill, but because that bill is expired and the federal government is now operating under a temporary spending measure, Donahoe said the agency thinks it can make the change itself.

Two local congressman said they’re opposed to the plan. U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, represents the 21st Congressional District, which covers rural northern New York, where many people live miles from a post office.

“It’s well known that the Postal Service has a budget problem, but leadership within the organization has failed in its duty to grow and seek out new opportunities to raise revenue, instead turning to rural areas for service cuts that do little to solve the problem,” Owens said in a statement. U.S. Rep. Paul D. Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said he also opposes a delivery reduction.

A majority of the American public favors the change, however, postal officials said. They said market research found nearly 70 percent of Americans support the switch as a way to reduce costs.

“We developed this approach by working with our customers to understand their delivery needs and by identifying creative ways to generate significant cost savings,” Donahoe said.

But the president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Fredric Rolando, said the move is “a disastrous idea that would have a profoundly negative effect on the Postal Service and on millions of customers,” citing businesses, rural communities, the elderly and the disabled.

But farmers, who may be among those farthest from a post office, don’t necessarily see big issues.

“We don’t see it as having a large impact,” said Steve Ammerman, a spokesman for New York Farm Bureau in Albany. “It’s only letter delivery. If they were to discontinue package delivery, that would have a much bigger impact on our members.”

Donahoe said there will be a combination of employee reassignment and elimination of jobs through attrition. Since 2006. postal officials say the service has eliminated 193,000 positions, 28 percent of its workforce, to cut costs.

Despite that, the Postal Service in November reported a record $15.9 billion annual loss and forecast more red ink.

The agency’s biggest financial problem is mounting costs for future retiree health benefits, a cost imposed by Congress. That made up $11.1 billion of last year’s losses, postal officials said.

Tonko acknowledged Congress shares blame for the service cut.

“The single largest reason the Postal Service is proposing these changes and facing insolvency is not due to fewer parcels, but rather mandatory costs imposed by Congress for future retiree health benefits, a requirement no other agency has to make,” Tonko said. “This is yet another manufactured crisis by Congress. Working together, I hope we can solve this issue, and restore six-day delivery.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 
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