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Snail-Mail Cutbacks to Lick Consumers

The U.S. Postal Service’s plan to slow down the delivery of first-class mail is aimed at saving billions of dollars, but consumer advocates say it will hurt consumers – and lead to even fewer people using the post office.

On Monday, the Post Service said it intends to close as many as 252 mail-processing centers and end overnight delivery for the basic stamped letter. Currently, there’s no guarantee how quickly first-class mail is delivered, but the standard is one to three days; shutting down processing centers will lengthen that window to two to three days. The move, which would begin in April, would save $2.1 billion annually, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The proposed moves follow earlier proposals to end Saturday delivery and close hundreds of post offices, and come as the cost of mailing letters continues to rise, notes John Breyault, the vice president of public policy for the National Consumers League. “For consumers to now have to pay more to get worse service, it feels like a punch in the gut,” Breyault says.

It will also go beyond simply waiting an extra day for the Netflix DVD, advocates say. People who buy prescription drugs online will have to plan ahead for longer delivery times. Likewise, consumers who pay bills through the mail will have to send them earlier, or think again about online bill paying, Breyault says. Magazines and even some local newspapers that deliver through the mail could also be affected. “This is just another reason for consumers to look more seriously at trying to do more things online,” Breyault says.

Sue Brennan, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service, says prescription drug shipments should not be affected, and adds that most consumers don’t wait until a day before a bill is due to send payment. First-class mail volume has declined dramatically, causing the Postal Service’s revenue to decline, and “we simply can no longer afford to pay for our large network,” she says.

Still, those cuts will be most harmful to low-income consumers, older people, and other consumers who have limited internet access or aren’t comfortable doing business online and rely on old-fashioned snail mail, says Linda Sherry, a spokeswoman for Consumer Action. “We are against five-day delivery because we think it does impose a burden on certain types of consumers,” Sherry says.

On top of that, many of these service cuts under consideration won’t save enough money to solve the Postal Service’s money problems, says Jeff Musto, a research associate at the Center for the Study of Responsive Law, a consumer-advocacy non-profit founded by Ralph Nader. The bulk of the funding shortfall comes from a 2006 law that required the Postal Service to fully fund 75 years’ worth of retiree benefits within 10 years, Musto says. “It’s a requirement that no other private corporation or government entity is required to meet,” he says. And service cuts, he argues, will only make the problem worse, because they make the Postal Service less attractive and drive consumers to rely on private companies like FedEx and UPS. “In the end, it’ll be detrimental to their consumer base,” he says.


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    • The USPS could easily be saved with just a couple of simple changes. For one the Postal Service should be allowed to invest its $325,000,000,000 in retirement assets the way any other business does. The current requirement that the USPS “invests” 100% of its retirement assets in low return federal bonds is killing it.
      The increased returns of around 2-4% per year that would exist using a modern diversified portfolio would cut postal expenses by $6.5 to $13 Billion dollars per year.
      This simple change would save several times what the proposed consolidations and service cuts are expected to save.
      The current plan is a death spiral plan. Eliminating overnight service will ultimately cost much more in lost revenue than it will ever save in expenses.

    • Who makes these business decisions? Like most Americans, i get nothing but junk mail, so they are going to cut their premium service and keep up delivering the junk. The government does not belong running any business, get them out. Scrap the post office the ponies died years ago, privatize it and if necessary aid rural delivery. Fiscal realities are still realities and need fiscal solutions, not political

    • Why is everyone screaming at the poor USPS??? In every other first world country daily mail (sometimes twice daily mail) is run as a basic government service. Only in the US, with our Wall-Street-driven economy and continuous social experiment with privatizing everything from the FDA to your gradma’s underpants, is daily mail delivery threatened.

      You can thank the GOP for that — both the real GOP, and the spineless Dems who tumble like dominoes whenever a right winger sneezes.

    • “The bulk of the funding shortfall comes from a 2006 law that required the Postal Service to fully fund 75 years’ worth of retiree benefits within 10 years…”

      The problem is that idiots elect ego-driven idiots to “serve” (themselves) — and I use that term in the loosest possible sense — in DC and the elected idiots (surprise! surprise! surprise!) do idiotic things. Gee… Go figure.

    • Looks like it’s going to be faster if I drive my first-class mail across country to hand-deliver it.

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