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Postal service to end Saturday delivery

Over the years I have received checks, bills, job offers and even boxes of baby chicks by mail. Now the U.S. Postal Service, authorized on July 26, 1775, by the Second Continental Congress, has decided to end Saturday delivery the week of Aug. 5.

My first postal carrier was a man named Peacock who grew up on an Indian reservation and delivered baby chicks in the days when the postal service did such things. Naomi, my current carrier, is one of the best ever.

The financially struggling postal service announced last week that it plans to stop delivering mail on Saturdays, but will continue delivering packages.

The move will save about $2 billion annually for the postal service, which has sustained billions of dollars in losses in recent years with the advent of the Internet and e-commerce.

The postal service has stumbled over the years. A member of the agency’s board of governors sent me a message in 2006 complaining Americans were no longer sending first class mail in the volume necessary for survival of the country’s second oldest federal agency. The message came in the form of an email.

The postal service has a responsibility to take the steps necessary to return to long-term financial stability and ensure the continued affordability of our mail. Post offices will remain open on Saturdays, we were told, so that customers can drop off mail or packages, buy postage stamps or access their post office boxes, but hours likely will be reduced at many smaller locations.

The Postal service said it suffered a $15.9 billion net loss for fiscal 2012, which ended Sept. 30. That’s three times the loss recorded a year earlier.

In the past, Congress has included a ban on five-day-a-week mail delivery in its appropriations bill. But the Postal Service is currently operating under a temporary spending measure, rather than an appropriations bill. A majority of Americans support ending Saturday mail, according to recent national polls.

Though the postal service is a quasi-governmental, self-funding entity, its worker compensation and retirement plans are tied to the federal budget. Our illustrious Congress has been meddling in the latter areas far too long, but has tried unsuccessfully for years to reshape a leaner organization that delivers mail less frequently and operates fewer post offices.

Congress created Frankenstein and is totally amazed that it is coming to life. By requiring the postal service to pre-fund retirement health benefits to the tune of over $50 billion over 10 years, which no other agency or business has to do, Congress has tied its hands.

For many Americans, the postal service’s plan to end Saturday mail delivery after 150 years symbolizes the broader decline of an institution that predates the nation it helped bind.

“Things change,” observed Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe. The Internet is free, he added, “and you cannot beat free.”

However, you can mourn change. A younger generation thinks of mail as a dinosaur. To older generations, the mail means something else, and the end of Saturday delivery is one of many bewildering and disturbing cultural changes.

The postal service helped pioneer long-distance stagecoach, rail and air travel. Its couriers were stayed by “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” — words borrowed from Herodotus.

We outlasted the Neanderthals and we will likely outlast the loss of Saturday mail service.

Larry Fugate is a veteran journalist and former editor of The Pine Bluff Commercial. He can be reached by e-mail at fugatel@sbcglobal.net or at (870) 329-7010.