The United States Postal Service won't be suspending Saturday deliveries later this year as planned if some members of Congress have their say about it. Instead, the USPS should actually be expanding its business widely into new markets, which could include everything from providing internet service to shipping beer and wine to issuing hunting licenses and vehicle permits.
A group of 24 mostly Democratic Senators led by Tom Udall (D-NM) sent an open letter today to the Postmaster General arguing that it is not actually legal for the USPS to stop Saturday deliveries beginning in August, as the agency announced earlier this month as part of its plan to cut costs amid massive losses.
"We believe your proposal does not comply with the existing statutory requirement to continue six-day delivery and rural mail delivery services at no less than 1983 levels," the letter reads, later pointing out, "It appears as recently as last year, the Postal Service did not believe it had the authority to end six-day delivery without legislation by Congress."
"We believe your proposal does not comply."
Among various concerns, the Senators' letter cites a figure of 70,000 job losses — 20,000 projected in rural communities — if the USPS ends Saturday deliveries. The Senators also take issue with the idea that ending Saturday mail delivery service will actually help curb the recent massive losses suffered by USPS ($15.9 billion in 2012), let alone help the agency achieve financial stability going forward. The letter cites surveys by the Postal Service and the Government Accountability Office showing that reducing deliveries would actually lead to less revenue, leading the Postal Service "further down the spiral."
The letter also recognizes what many consider to be the agency's central financial crisis, that the USPS cannot continue in its current state of paying $5.5 billion every year for 75 years' worth of employee health care benefits, the result of a 2006 law.
"Help customers take advantage of email and internet services."
Instead, the Senators note they are working on "comprehensive legislation" that would eliminate this requirement and expand the authority of the USPS, allowing it to get into money-generating activities it's currently barred from pursuing, including beer and wine shipments. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced bills to this effect on Wednesday, which would give the USPS the option to get into any of the following businesses:
- check-cashing services
- technology and media service
- warehousing and logistics
- facility leasing
- public internet access services
- driver licensing
- vehicle registration
- hunting and fishing licensing
- notary services
- voter registration
In a press release, Sanders' office said that the internet option in particular would give the USPS the power to "help customers take advantage of email and internet services," though it's unclear exactly what services are being referred to here — email clients, Wi-Fi hotspots, or full internet connectivity comparable to a cable company. A spokesperson from Sanders' office told The Verge in a phone call that a commission would be formed to determine exactly what the Postal Service could do in terms of internet services, but was unable to provide more specific examples at this time.