Massive deficits could force the post office to cut one day of mail delivery, the postmaster general told Congress on Wednesday, asking lawmakers to lift the requirement that the agency deliver mail six days a week.
If the change happens, that doesn't necessarily mean an end to Saturday mail delivery. Previous post office studies have looked at the possibility of skipping some other day when mail flow is light, such as Tuesday.
Faced with dwindling mail volume and rising costs, the post office was $2.8billion in the red last year.
“If current trends continue, we could experience a net loss of $6 billion or more this fiscal year,” Postmaster General John Potter said in testimony for a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee.
Total mail volume was 202billion items last year, over 9 billion less than the year before, the largest single volume drop in history.
And, despite annual rate increases, Potter said, 2009 could be the first year since 1946 that the actual amount of money collected by the post office declines. “It is possible that the cost of six-day delivery may simply prove to be unaffordable,” Potter said.
A study done by George Mason University last year for the independent Postal Regulatory Commission estimated that going from six-day to five-day delivery would save the post office more than $1.9billion annually, while a Postal Service study estimated the saving at $3.5 billion.
The next postal rate increase is scheduled for May, with the amount to be announced next month. Under current rules that would be limited to the amount of the increase in last year's consumer price index, 3.8 percent. That would round to a 2-cent increase in the current 42-cent first-class rate.
The agency could request a larger increase because of the special circumstances, but Potter said he believes that would be counterproductive by causing mail volume to fall even more.