Updated: March 10, 2013 6:26AM
For as long as anyone reading this has been alive, Americans have checked their mailboxes on Saturday to see what the mail carrier brought them.
That’s going to end, if the U.S. Postal Service gets its way. And it should. The move is long overdue for an agency drowning in red ink and won’t have much of an impact on most people’s lives.
The postmaster general announced this week that Saturday mail delivery will cease after Aug. 3 to save about $2 billion a year. Package delivery, about the lone postal bright spot, still will occur on Saturday, and post offices will remain open.
But will no-Saturday-mail really happen? Or is it a postal pressure tactic to get relief from a huge financial burden that no other federal agency has to bear?
Going to weekday-only mail delivery has been debated for years as a way for the agency to stem a tidal wave of financial losses that reached $16 billion in fiscal 2012. Total mail volume fell by about 25 percent from 2006 to 2011.
Email, online banking and bill paying and other Internet use has cost the Postal Service a lot of revenue, and as an independent agency, it does not get federal tax support though it is subject to congressional oversight.
And it’s Congress that has stymied ending Saturday delivery — pressured by the mail carriers’ union that doesn’t want to lose more jobs (about 190,000 gone since 2006) and overtime and by congressmen who question its efficacy. Why won’t Congress do so again?
Well, the losses keep piling up, and postal officials believe a legal loophole now lets them make the change without congressional approval. That remains to be seen, but they’re also emboldened by market research that shows 70 percent of Americans favor five-day mail delivery to cut costs.
This all may be a ploy to pressure Congress to give the Postal Service what it really wants — not having to spend $5.5 billion a year ($11 billion last fiscal year in a two-year payment) for future retiree health benefits. Free us of that unique obligation, and we’ll keep Saturday delivery might be the Postal Service’s compromise. But to stanch its losses, it might need relief on both fronts.