Residents and local leaders reacted positively to the U.S. Postal Service’s decision to end Saturday deliveries.
The service, struggling under a financial load and facing tough competition, will switch to five-day mail delivery starting Aug. 15, the agency announced Wednesday.
Michael Miles, spokesman for the Postal Service in Georgia, said the decision is practical.
“In looking at making this decision, of course we looked at Saturday, because it is our lightest mail delivery day,” he said. “A good volume is to businesses and many of them are closed on Saturday. Given that, we think the impact will be relatively slight.”
The Postal Service will continue to deliver packages six days a week, along with mail-order medicine and priority and express mail, officials said.
Kit Dunlap, president of the Greater Hall County Chamber of Commerce, commented on the Postal Service’s business decision.
“To me, it’s a good business decision. The post office is a great service, but sometimes it’s time to make a change. You’ve got to start somewhere,” she said.
Dunlap said she expects that any impacted businesses will make the necessary adjustments.
“I think businesses in general will adapt to the change with e-mail and all the other services they have at their disposal,” she said. “It’s what they’ve been doing the past five to six years.”
Gainesville resident Sean Oliver, 25, echoed the idea that hand-to-paper information gathering is increasingly quaint.
“I guess it was a matter of time. I think it’s a wise choice by the post office,” he said. “Nothing important is really sent on Saturday that can’t be e-mailed or (sent by) other faster ways of communicating.”
Of course, in addition to customers, the change could affect Postal Service employees, although Miles said laying off workers would be a last resort.
“We’ve reduced the work force by nearly 200,000 employees in (the) last several years. We’ve been able to do that without laying off by not filling new jobs and offering early retirement,” he said. “We would anticipate the same in this case. We don’t think it will result in anyone losing their jobs.”
The announcement, which had been expected, is seen as an attempt to force Congress to deal with the Postal Service’s increasing financial woes. Congress has tried to reorganize the agency, but efforts have been derailed because of politics.
The Postal Service contends that it has the authority to cut service, though some in Congress insist that lawmakers have the final word. The announcement is expected to move the issue to a front burner.
Officials said the Postal Service lost about $16 billion — about three times the loss it had a year ago — in fiscal 2012, which ended Sept. 30.
“From a savings standpoint, we expect to save approximately $2 billion per year,” Miles said. “The savings will come from staffing and transportation costs primarily. We have a large delivery fleet — gasoline is a big cost.”
Congress in recent years has prohibited the Postal Service from dropping Saturday mail delivery, but the initial response to Wednesday’s announcement was more accepting of what might be inevitable.
“This common-sense reform would save the postal service more than $2 billion annually,” two top Republicans, Rep. Darrell Issa of California and Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, said in a statement. “In his recent inaugural address, President Obama spoke about the need to find real solutions to our nation’s problems. Supporting the U.S. postal service’s plan to move forward with 5-day mail delivery is one such solution worthy of bipartisan support,” they said.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chaired by Issa, agreed that action was needed, but questioned whether the Postal Service could act alone.
“The postal service’s declining mail volume poses a significant challenge, and the enactment of comprehensive postal reform legislation must be an urgent priority for the current Congress,” Cummings said in a statement. “However, the issue of service delivery frequency should be addressed in that legislation rather than through arbitrary action by the postal service.”
Recent national polls show that a majority of respondents support ending Saturday mail delivery, and the president has proposed halting such service as part of his budget-cutting proposals.
Dunlap said the move reflects a larger trend.
“It’s not a surprise considering the shape the federal government is in, and the Postal Service is a sort of quasi-government service. It’s in bad shape,” she said.
According to the laws under which it now operates, the Postal Service is a semi-independent federal agency, mandated to break even financially.
However, its worker compensation and retirement plans are tied to the federal budget.
Dunlap said those present the highest costs.
“The majority of costs are in long-term retirement benefits,” she said.
Miles said that Saturday office hours, where available, aren’t being shuttered.
“This has no impact on post offices that are open on Saturdays. The hours won’t change, and there’ll be no delivery of mail, no collection of mail, but in terms of what happens on post office hours, this would have no impact on that,” he said.
For now, at least. To recoup declining revenue, more will need to be done, he said.
“We’re looking at everything, including reducing hours across the country, and a rather aggressive plan to consolidate processing plants,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.