The U.S. Postal Service has cancelled its plans to halt Saturday mail delivery - at least temporarily.
The decision, which was announced April 10, was hailed by some farm groups and newspaper interests who said that rural residents would be hurt without mail delivery on Saturday.
The greeting card industry and postal unions are also against the move to halt Saturday delivery and were pleased with the announcement, although it appears to be only temporary, pending action by Congress.
National Farmers Union Vice President of Government Relations Chandler Goule said he was pleased that the postal service decided to reverse its plan to end Saturday mail delivery.
Cutting Saturday services, along with closing some smaller post offices was part of a larger plan to cut costs at the Post Office. It was to have gone into effect in August.
"National Farmers Union has long supported the USPS, especially rural mail delivery," Goule said. "The elimination of Saturday delivery would have a negative impact on the economy and would pose an unnecessary burden to customers of the Postal Service."
Since the Saturday delivery cut was announced a few months ago, there has been concern that local and regional newspaper delivery to outlying areas would be impacted. Regional publications like Wisconsin State Farmer would be among those affected.
"This not only damages the circulation numbers of the newspaper, but also devalues local information and advertising," Goule added.
"Many rural USPS customers depend heavily on weekend delivery, and eliminating it would have a negative impact on rural America."
At the 2013 NFU convention, delegates passed a Special Order of Business specifically addressing USPS services and their importance to rural America.
"As publishers, we are very supportive of Congress' position that Saturday delivery is imperative especially for our rural readers in Wisconsin and the Midwest," said Trey Foerster, publisher of the Wisconsin State Farmer.
"However, it is only one piece of a delivery puzzle that needs to be addressed by the USPS," Foerster added. "Timely newspaper delivery service has been degraded by the post office - which is closing mailing facilities - as our readers in Northern Illinois can attest to. We are working with postal authorities to have consistent and timely delivery on a weekly basis."
CUT RED INK
The decision to halt Saturday deliver was made in February to staunch the hemorrhage of red ink at USPS. It is estimated that the Postal Service lost $15.9 billion last year; it was looking for numerous ways to cut costs, including elimination of weekend mail delivery.
While the use of electronic communications and competition from other package deliver services has cut into profits of the Post Office, it faces another problem created by Congress, which has required the USPS to pre-fund all of its employee retiree benefits for the future in its current budget.
The decision to reverse course on the Saturday deliver question came after an April 9 meeting of the USPS board of governors, during which they discussed the Continuing Resolution, a bill recently passed by Congress to fund operation of the federal government.
The board concluded that wording in that resolution prohibits the Postal Service from implementing its plan to halt Saturday delivery.
In a press release the board said it was disappointed with the Congressional action, but agreed to delay implementation of the new delivery schedule.
However, it still wants to go ahead with the plan. For that to happen, new legislation would need to be enacted to give the Postal Service the authority to change the schedule as it sees fit.
The board said it "believes that Congress has left it with no choice but to delay this implementation at this time," adding that "it continues to support a transition to a new national delivery schedule."
That new delivery schedule would provide $2 billion in annual cost savings and is "necessary as part of a larger five-year business plan," postal officials said.
The board cited several polls that found the public is widely supportive of the plan to halt Saturday delivery.
"Our new delivery schedule is also supported by the Administration and some members of Congress," they said.
"It is not possible for the Postal Service to meet significant cost-reduction goals without changing its delivery schedule," the board statement said. "Delaying responsible changes to the Postal Service business model only increases the potential that the Postal Service may become a burden to the American taxpayer."
The board said it wants to ensure that customers of the Postal Service are not "unduly burdened by ongoing uncertainties and are able to adjust their business plans accordingly."
The board said that with the worsening financial condition of the Postal Service, the board is directing management to reopen negotiations with postal unions to try to lower total workforce costs.
The board asked management to evaluate further options to increase revenue, including a postal rate increase to raise revenues across current Postal Service product categories and products which are not currently covering their costs.
Board members are urging Congress to pass comprehensive postal legislation that would give USPS the ability to establish a delivery schedule on its own. If that happens, Saturday delivery would once again be on the chopping block.