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Deficit will keep USPS from rounds

Published 5:36 pm, Friday, February 15, 2013
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The United States Postal Service's Feb. 6 announcement that outlined plans of turning a six-day delivery week into a five-day week will mean elimination of some jobs, but just where those eliminations will occur is too early to tell.

United States Senator Richard Blumenthal believes changes can be made to the postal service to make it solvent and maintain Saturday service.

"Speaking generally, I oppose eliminating delivery because of its impact on small business and families who depend on it," Blumenthal said. "Small businesses depend on Saturday delivery for their goods and services, as well as for other kinds of communication, so I think it will be an impediment and obstacle to their recovering from the recession and create jobs."

Many agreed that some changes would have to be made.

Will Doran has delivered mail in New Canaan for 27 years, and the proposal came as no shock to him.

"It means Monday is going to be a nightmare, but you've got to do what you've got to do to cut costs somehow," he said while delivering mail on Main Street during the beginning of the blizzard last weekend.

Darien seniors at the senior center supported the cost-saving efforts of the Postal Service.

"It's a good idea if it can save the post office some money," said Bill Grega, who has a 49-year-old son who works for the USPS. "This is good for him; he'll get Saturday and Sunday off."

Darien resident Ray Evola was for the change.

"If (people) don't need the service, why waste people driving around in cars wasting the gas?" he said. "If they can conserve the energy, they should do it."

Others have been predicting the change for some time.

"I've been saying it for years that the post should stop on Saturdays," said Al Metayer. "All we get is junk mail anyway. The bills will come regardless. It's not like people pay them the day that they get them."

Sally Ijams, head of the reference desk at the Darien Library, wasn't overly concerned about the possibility.

"The effect will be minor at best," she said.

Magazines normally delivered to the library on the weekend would be put out on Monday. The delivery change would noticeably affect Barron's, a weekly financial magazine that is delivered with the Saturday mail and is heavily read by library users, according to Ijams.

One small business owner did not anticipate a disruption from the plan.

"We feel it will be a minor inconvenience," said Sheila Daley, owner of Barrett Bookstore in Darien. "We don't get any deliveries on Saturday; our books come in by UPS or FedEx."

The problem the postal service faces is that it loses an astounding amount of money.

"As we look to the coming year, we are on an unsustainable financial path. We are currently losing $25 million per day, we have defaulted on $11.1 billion in Treasury payments and exhausted our borrowing authority," said Postmaster General Patrick Donahue, who has said that discontinuing Saturday service will cut $2 billion annually from the service's deficit.

Blumenthal's hope to save the service rested on a bill the U.S. Senate passed a bill last April, which, he says, would have prevented the postal service from needing to cut Saturday delivery. The 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012 stipulated many reforms, including that the Retiree Health Benefit Fund could be funded at 80 percent rather than fully funded.

The bill was never introduced in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Blumenthal said he hopes to pass another one through the Senate soon.

"It isn't a matter of changing the pension as much as changing the way the costs are paid. Right now, in effect, the costs have to be paid for all future pensions as if they were paid this year. It's an accounting reform as well as a reform. There are also efficiencies in service that can be implemented. Others included stronger efficiencies in delivering mail, investing in equipment that would improve delivery."

Christine Dugas, a Postal Service spokesperson, said since 2006, there have been 193,000 positions eliminated across the country, none of which were career layoffs, meaning that as employees retired, the positions were eliminated or filled by other employees, not with new hires.

"We are really good at dealing in reductions of employees through attrition," Dugan said.

With more than 31,000 post offices across the country, according to Dugas, the larger post offices may see a larger effect than the smaller ones, she added.

Between the two Darien post offices, there are 33 employees, 22 of which are mail carriers.

The plan to restrict Saturday deliveries will take effect Aug. 1, 2013 and will only affect first-class mail, which will be delivered Monday through Friday. Express mail will be delivered seven days a week, and packages will continue to be delivered and post offices will remain open on Saturdays.

"We encourage the new 113th Congress to make postal reform an urgent priority, and to work steadily toward the quick passage of reform legislation," Donohue said in a statement.

"Saturday service is only one branch of costs and should not be done in isolation," Blumenthal said. "Postal service needs to be addressed, no question."

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