Postal Service Backs Off Ending Saturday Mail Delivery

The U.S. Postal Service is giving up on its plan to save money by eliminating Saturday delivery. It says Congress won't let it make the change — so it's back to losing more money than it planned.

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Turns out that Saturday first-class mail service isn't going anywhere. The Postal Service today backtracked on its decision to reduce deliveries in an effort to save money. But it says that's only because language in the bill funding the federal government currently bars such a change. As NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, this means the service will be running even deeper in the red.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: In February, when the Postal Service said it would cut Saturday delivery, it didn't have explicit approval from Congress. And that struck many as gutsy, controversial and, according to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, unavoidable.

PATRICK DONAHOE: We're now at a point where it is absolutely necessary to make that move.

NOGUCHI: At the time, Donahoe ticked through some dire numbers - how the USPS lost $16 billion last year, how email and online bill pay have demolished demand for first-class mail.

DONAHOE: And unfortunately, our business model and the laws that govern us do not provide a lot of flexibility to adapt.

NOGUCHI: Therein lies the crux of the Postal Service's dilemma. It is not taxpayer-funded but is governed by Congress. It competes against UPS and FedEx, but cannot cut costs or make big changes without congressional approval. And it's one of the largest employers in the country, and the only organization with a requirement to fully prefund its retirement plan decades into the future, a financial burden that is forcing it into insolvency.

REP. BLAKE FARENTHOLD: We absolutely need to give the Postal Service the flexibility they need to get their financial house in order.

NOGUCHI: That's Texas Republican congressman Blake Farenthold, who chairs the subcommittee on the Postal Service. He says he thinks the current language does not bar cutting Saturday delivery, but that he's happy to support legislation that would make it more explicit.

FARENTHOLD: I don't understand why it's so politically controversial because surveys show that 70 percent of the American public support modified Saturday delivery.

NOGUCHI: President Obama's budget proposal for next year also includes proposals for cutting Saturday delivery, changing the retirement funding as well as eliminating more Postal Service jobs. But postal workers' unions fiercely defend Saturday delivery, saying the move would hurt middle-class workers. Business groups that rely on the mail also argue against cutting the number of days. George White is chair of postal affairs for the Greeting Card Association.

GEORGE WHITE: Saturday mail delivery is a huge advantage that the Postal Service has. By eliminating Saturday service, all they're going to do is accelerate the decline in volume that they have.

NOGUCHI: The Postal Service disagrees. It plans to reopen negotiations with its unions to further reduce workforce costs. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

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