Commission split on Saturday mail cut

The Postal Regulatory Commission said Thursday a U.S. Postal Service request to cut Saturday mail service will not save as much money as USPS thinks.

But the commission did not come out either for or against the proposal. Under law, the commission’s advice is required as an intermediate step before Congress decides on a postal policy change. 

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Four of the five commissioners filed separate opinions. Two offered arguments in favor of cutting Saturday mail. Chairwoman Ruth Goldway argued against the idea, saying it violates "postal policy." The fourth raised questions.

The USPS had estimated the move to five-day delivery for all but USPS Express Mail service would save $3.1 billion a year, but the commission estimated savings of only $1.7 billion.  

The postal service ran an $8.5 billion deficit in 2010, so the Saturday mail cut wouldn't do nearly enough to make USPS solvent.

The commission points out that the savings would not be achieved for at least three years, and that about 25 percent of first-class and Priority mail will be derailed by two days.

It also said that some people who live in rural or remote areas may be disproportionately affected by the change, something senators from Alaska and Hawaii had written to the commission about.

Spokesman Norman Scherstrom said the law does not specify whether the commission's advice needs to be in favor or against a proposal, that the commission is empowered to make a black-and-white call.

Since 1983, USPS has been required by law to deliver mail six days a week.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Financial Services subcommittee that oversees USPS, said in February she would support using the appropriations process to block a change to current policy regarding Saturday delivery.

The postal service is expected to run a $6.4 billion shortfall this year.

Postal Service Inspector General David Williams testified in February that the USPS will run out of money in September and needs Congress’s help to stay afloat. In September the service will run up against the legal limit it is allowed to borrow to operate.

The budget problems have come about in part because of mistaken payments to the postal service pension fund; Williams said Congress could step in to reorganize the pension system.

He emphasized that the USPS is “not looking for a bailout.”

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsOvernight Energy: Lawmakers work toward deal on miners’ benefits Schumer: Senate Russia probe moving too slowly Collins: I'm not working with Freedom Caucus chairman on healthcare MORE (R-Me.) the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which has jurisdiction over the mail, said the commission's advisory opinion shows USPS has questions to answer before Saturday service is cut.

"Echoing my warnings, PRC Chairman Ruth Goldway acknowledged in her addendum to the Opinion that five-day delivery would 'unfairly discriminate' against rural postal customers," she said in a statement. "The Advisory Opinion raises many of the same questions that I have posed over and over. These consequences simply must be addressed before consideration of such a significant service reduction."

USPS on Thursday announced layoffs of 7,500 people and the closing of seven district offices as part of its fiscal consolidation efforts.

This post was last updated at 4:20 p.m.