Thursday, April 1, 2010

Locals Weigh in on Postal Service Budget Deficit

By Maggie Roth
Photo by Muriel Hoffacker
Gordon College News Service
March 31, 2010

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. Monday through Friday, that is.

Because of an anticipated $238 billion in losses over the next 10 years (if Congress does not permit it to overhaul its outdated business model), the U.S. Postal Service (U.S.P.S.) recently announced it would adjust its mail service schedule, eliminating Saturday deliveries and its prepaid retiree health benefits. These changes, they said, would reduce $90 billion in costs over the next decade.


“The post office is not doing well. It’s losing money mainly due to the Internet and economy,” said Cassie Austin, 49, and resident of Beverly, MA, who has been a letter carrier for the Beverly Postal Service for the past 11 years. “Improvements in technology have diminished a need for first-class mail.”

Austin, whose mail delivery route equals about six and a half walking miles, said that if the postal service cuts Saturday delivery it will affect all areas of the post office.

“Without six days of delivery in our office alone, we will probably lose six or seven letter carriers due to budget cuts,” said Austin.

But Austin said she didn’t know if cutting Saturday delivery would ultimately have positive or negative ramifications for local post offices, although in the short term, she expected it would save money.

They’ll need to. Last September, the U.S.P.S. reported it was $10 billion in debt, not far off from its $15 billion debt limit, which they expected to hit in the 2011 fiscal year. In 2009 alone, mail volume was down 12.7% for the year, according to the U.S.P.S. Web site, a trend that is expected to persist as more consumers pay bills online and use email as a primary form of message delivery.

In its March 24 press release, the U.S.P.S. announced that five-day delivery is one of the fundamental changes that will assist the Postal Service in better responding to changing customer needs, and sited strong public support for it.

But Ted, a resident of Salem who prefers to keep his last name anonymous, isn’t so sure. He has worked at the Marblehead post office for seven years and feels that cutting Saturday delivery will have a negative impact on both the postal workers and their customers.

“The future doesn’t look too bright for letter-carriers,” he said. “Everything is electronic these days and until we have a major meltdown and need to have a reliable source for receiving mail, people are going to keep using the Internet for these kinds of things.”

If he were in charge, Ted said that he would make different changes.

“I would use our own vehicles as billboards,” said Ted. “We could have companies advertise on the sides of our trucks—there are so many of them all across the country, it would be a great way to advertise.”

Austin, too, said there were creative alternatives to help with the budget deficit. “I think the postmaster could cover more offices—like a region,” she said. “The postmaster doesn’t have to be in one post office all day long. I think that would save money by reducing management a little bit.”

And both Austin and Ted agree that the U.S.P.S. can catch up to modern technology by building up their package business.

“We need to make a transition,” said Austin. “Dwindling letter mail needs to shift to packages. Packages will always need to be delivered. I think in the future to mail a letter it will have to come in a large envelope and be paid for as a package.”

The budget deficit issue seems to be so problematic that many employees from post offices across the North Shore declined to comment for this article and instead directed calls to the public relations office. But the U.S.P.S. office of public relations did not return calls.

One thing is clear: though rain did not stop mail carriers in the past, now it seems a stormy economy will, at least on Saturdays.

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