U.S. Post Office to stop Saturday mail

Photo of NYC mail carrier by Flickr user Wayne Surber. Published under Creative Commons license.

By August, news outlets around the country are reporting, the U.S. Postal Service will put a halt to Saturday mail delivery in an effort to cut costs at the struggling agency.

The USPS hasn't made an official announcement yet -- a press conference will be held later today -- but the Associated Press has gotten a sneak peek at the agency's news release. From an AP story published this morning:

Material prepared for the Wednesday press conference by Patrick R. Donahoe, postmaster general and CEO, says Postal Service market research and other research has indicated that nearly 7 in 10 Americans support the switch to five-day delivery as a way for the Postal Service to reduce costs.

“The Postal Service is advancing an important new approach to delivery that reflects the strong growth of our package business and responds to the financial realities resulting from America’s changing mailing habits,” Donahoe said in a statement prepared for the announcement. “We developed this approach by working with our customers to understand their delivery needs and by identifying creative ways to generate significant cost savings.”

Post offices will remain open on Saturdays, the AP reports, and customers that get their mail via post office box will still get mail on Saturdays. The agency will also continue to deliver packages six days a week.

The USPS has sought to put an end to Saturday delivery for several years. But the agency's cost-cutting plan to end Saturday mail has been stymied by Congress, which has prohibited the USPS from making the change, while at the same time requiring the agency to set aside billions of dollars a year for the future health care costs of its employees. The current move to end Saturday delivery is being carried out without Congressional approval, the Washington Post reports:

The move has been expected for years, but is being announced absent explicit congressional approval, even though lawmakers have argued their consent is necessary in order to make the operational change. Postal officials are expected to argue Wednesday that they do not need congressional action in order to halt Saturday delivery...

...Congress in recent years has prohibited the Postal Service from dropping Saturday mail delivery, and the USPS has pushed to lift that restriction.

The Postal Service currently is not operating under appropriations legislation, meaning the organization will have a window to end Saturday mail delivery when the government’s most last temporary spending measure expires on March 27. USPS is asking Congress not to reimpose the restriction against five-day delivery when that time comes.

The move is expected to save the USPS up to $2 billion a year. But U.S. taxpayers won't save a dime, Forbes columnist Kelly Phillips Erb explains -- because the USPS isn't taxpayer-funded.

By statute, the U.S. Post Office is an “independent establishment of the executive branch of the Government of the United States. So while the Post Office is privileged under U.S. law (it has a monopoly on the delivery of first class mail, for example), it’s not technically run by the government nor is it funded by taxpayers. In fact, the Postal Service hasn’t received federal subsidies from taxpayers for more than thirty years (with limited exceptions related to voting).

The government has played – and continues to play – an role important in regulation of the mail, however. The mail was, for more than 100 years, delivered seven days a week until Congress put an end to it in 1912. Since then, the Postal Service has delivered mail six days a week – with the exception of a short break in 1957. Congress has, for the most part, supported the delivery of mail for six days per week. And despite the fact that Congress doesn’t fund the U.S. Postal Service, they continue to control the purse strings. By law, the U.S. Postal Service can’t raise the price of stamps more than the rate of inflation without Congressional approval. It’s an interesting mix of government control and semi-private enterprise (for a fascinating look at the history of the U.S. Mail system, check out Pub 100 from the U.S. Postal Service).