LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
And this recession could be claiming another victim: your post office. The Postal Service announced yesterday it lost $2.4 billion between April and June. Congress is considering whether to shut down post offices.
NPR's David Greene reports.
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Unidentified People: (Singing) We deliver, we deliver…
DAVID GREENE: You remember all the old TV ads.
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Unidentified Man: Speed, convenience, price. It's a package only we can deliver.
GREENE: The Postal Service - neither rain, nor snow, nor gloom of night. But then there's this recession. Here's Postmaster General John Potter.
Postmaster General JOHN POTTER (U.S. Postal Service): What has occurred with the economy is unprecedented, and it's created obviously a much bigger challenge than we're able to respond to in a very quick manner.
GREENE: Potter announced those bad economic numbers yesterday. This morning he'll go before a Senate panel to talk about the financial troubles, and he'll be back in this awkward spot. Lawmakers have urged the Postal Service to make hard choices.
But truth be told, lawmakers - not the Postal Service itself - have been the ones dragging their feet.
Representative TOM CARPER (Democrat, Delaware): You know, the - this is a mixed message that we're sending.
GREENE: That's Democrat Tom Carper of Delaware. He's chairing that Senate hearing today. And while Carper, for his part, has urged the Postal Service to act like a business and come up with its own solutions, he won't sign on to the biggest structural change the Postal Service wants - permission to end its Saturday delivery.
Rep. CARPER: I'm not sure it's something they ought to do, but it's got to be on the table.
GREENE: And why not - why just on the table - I mean, if that's something they're asking for now, saying let us do this?
Rep. CARPER: One of - well, for a long time in this country we delivered mail six days a week. For a lot of people that's an important thing to do.
GREENE: Eliminating Saturday delivery would still leave a sizeable deficit, and other solutions would probably be necessary. For his part, Carper wants to ease a law that requires the agency to prepay benefits for future retirees.
But again and again, the challenge can seem the same. Lawmakers are supportive of cost-cutting measures, only less so if their constituents are affected. At a House hearing last week, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the delegate representing the District of Columbia, slammed the Postal Service for not doing enough.
Delegate ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (Democrat, District of Columbia): I don't know what's pending here except collapse. And I don't hear that there is a right-sizing plan of any kind that the Postal Service is engaged in.
GREENE: Then again, the Postal Service is engaged in a review that could affect Norton's community.
Del. NORTON: Are there any post offices in the District of Columbia or postal stations under review for closing? See, that's something that any member ought to be able to ask and get an answer to.
GREENE: As the Postal Service navigates Congress, it's already been cutting its workforce through attrition, consolidating mail routes, offering early retirements. But they know this is not enough.
Representative STEPHEN LYNCH (Democrat, Massachusetts): Most members of Congress are in denial.
GREENE: That's Massachusetts Democrat Stephen Lynch, who chairs the House subcommittee overseeing the Postal Service. Lynch once opposed cutting back delivery to five days.
Rep. LYNCH: I don't welcome it, but I don't see any other options out there in terms of the ability to bring down cost.
GREENE: But plenty of lawmakers say they'll stand in the Postal Service's way.
Representative JO ANN EMERSON (Republican, Missouri): I am on my 14th annual farm tour.
GREENE: I caught Republican House Member Jo Ann Emerson on her cell phone, driving through small towns in her district in Missouri.
Rep. EMERSON: There's no doubt that the decision-makers of the Postal Service, I don't believe they have any clue of what it's like in small town America.
GREENE: In Missouri, Emerson said, plenty of seniors don't have checks direct deposited. And if their Social Security check is available on a Saturday, they want it delivered on Saturday.
I'm David Greene, NPR News.
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