The friendly rhythm of neighborhood life is losing a beat with the decision by the U.S. Postal Service to end Saturday delivery.
In a bid to cut staggering losses, the Postal Service said Wednesday that it would eliminate Saturday delivery of letters, magazines and other “flat mail.” Carriers would continue to deliver packages, including medication, on Saturdays, according to regional spokesman Brian Sperry.
The change may mark the end of an era when the mail carrier was as well-known as the neighbor down the street. Working families now will be less likely to know their carrier because their paths will no longer cross on Saturdays. Housebound elderly will lose a day of contact with the outside world.
“The post office is about American as you can get,” said Donna Whitmarsh, president of the Omaha area branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers. “Carriers go house to house six days a week. We're watchdogs in the neighborhood. This is a reckless plan.”
In announcing the decision Wednesday, Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe described the cut as essential. The Postal Service, which lost $15.9 billion in the last budget year, expects to save $2 billion annually with the Saturday cutback.
“Our financial condition is urgent,” he said.
Whether the Postal Service is able to eliminate Saturday delivery depends on Congress.
In the past, Congress has prohibited a shift to five-day-only delivery. Wednesday's announcement was an end-run around that ban because it took advantage of a temporary loophole in congressional oversight.
Reaction from Congress was mixed, with some legislators condemning it and others announcing their support.
In Nebraska, U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith said he'd like to see comprehensive reform that avoids disproportionately hurting rural communities.
“While ending Saturday delivery is not ideal, USPS needs flexibility to achieve the maximum amount of savings with the least disruption,” he said.
This appears to be the type of decision that spares rural communities their worst fear. Reduced delivery nationwide is seen as a way to avoid the outright closing of small-town post offices.
In Iowa, Vance Trively, who is mayor in Randolph and has fought successfully to keep his town's post office open, said he's satisfied. The hours at the local post office will be shortened.
“For us it's as good as we can get,” he said. “The town can live with it.”
John Howell of Glenwood, Iowa, said the move will be felt keenly by senior citizens. His 96-year-old mother-in-law and her neighbors in an assisted-living center in Mount Ayr, Iowa, plan their day around the mail delivery.
“They have lunch and they just sit there and wait till the mailman brings their mail,” said Howell, a volunteer with the Senior Health Insurance Information Program.
Howell does much of his business by email, so the coming change will affect him less. But his wife, Mary, 68, like her mother, looks forward to the mail every day.
The Postal Service clearly believes that the majority of Americans back its decision to curtail service. Postal Service market research indicates that nearly seven in 10 Americans support the switch to five-day delivery as a cost-cutting measure.
Chad Marquis is among those. Most Saturdays, he doesn't pick up his mail, instead collecting it with the Monday mail on his drive home. His mailbox is about 50 yards from his house.
“I have no problem with no Saturday delivery,” he said.
Leesa Graeve, an Omahan whose father was a lifetime carrier, has mixed feelings about the change. As a little girl, she missed having her father home on Saturdays. But as an adult and a mother, she recognizes the importance of postal jobs for families.
“If the post office decides to end any more days of delivery, it will affect families of the employees more than people realize,” she said.
At least 35,000 full-time equivalent jobs will be eliminated nationwide, with the cuts being made through attrition, retirements and job shifting, Sperry said.
The wife of one local carrier, who asked not to be identified, said she's concerned about the stress this will place on carriers — especially on Mondays. Her husband and others already are working long hours, and now they will face an even longer Monday when they deliver mail that has accumulated since Friday.
Companies that rely heavily on mail delivery for their business are still weighing the impact.
“It's too early to predict what this means,” said a First Data spokeswoman. “We'll be working closely with our customers as we evaluate any actions that may need to be taken.”
World-Herald staff writer Josh Frigerio and the World-Herald News Service contributed to this report, which includes material from the Associated Press.