Congress to Force USPS to Keep Saturday Delivery

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -

Congress foiled the financially beleaguered U.S. Postal Service’s plan to end Saturday delivery of first-class mail on Thursday when it passed legislation requiring six-day delivery.

The Postal Service, which lost $16 billion last year, had said last month it wanted to switch to five-day mail service to save $2 billion annually.

No law requires the Postal Service to deliver mail six days a week, but Congress traditionally has included a provision in legislation to fund the federal government each year that has prevented the Postal Service from reducing delivery service. The Postal Service had asked Congress not to include the provision this time.

Despite the request, the House on Thursday gave final approval to the legislation that maintains the provision, sending it to President Obama to sign into law. The Senate approved it Wednesday.

But some lawmakers who support the Postal Service’s plan have said there may still be some room for it to change its delivery schedule. They point out that the language requiring six-day delivery is vague and does not prohibit altering what products it delivers on Saturdays.

The Postal Service has said that while it would not pick up or deliver first-class mail, magazines and direct mail, it would continue to deliver packages and pharmaceutical drugs on Saturdays.

Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Representative Darrell Issa of California on Thursday jointly told the USPS Board of Governors to move forward with implementing the five-day delivery plan for mail.

“The Board of Governors has a fiduciary responsibility to utilize its legal authority to implement modified 6-day mail delivery as recently proposed,” the lawmakers said in their letter to the USPS board.

The Postal Service, they said, is in such dire financial need that it must implement all measures to fix its troubles.

Several polls have shown a majority of the public supports ending six-day delivery of first-class mail.

The plan for a new delivery schedule, Postal Service spokesman David Partenheimer said, would respond to the customers’ changing needs and help keep the Postal Service from becoming a burden to taxpayers.

Ending six-day first-class mail delivery is part of the Postal Service’s larger plan to cut costs and raise revenues.

The mail carrier loses $25 million each day, as more Americans communicate by email and the Internet, and as heavy mandatory payments into its future retirees’ health fund take a toll.

The Postal Service could run out of money by October if Congress does not provide legislative relief, some experts have estimated.