WASHINGTON -- Kenny Clark is a letter carrier in Maryland. But he brings
people more than just the mail.
Clark greets nearly everyone he sees by name. He puts packages under
overhangs on cloudy days to keep them dry. He reminds people to grab keys they
might have left in keyholes. He shouts a quick “You OK?” at the doors of older
He is a neighborhood landmark. But his future is in doubt. And so is the
future of the U.S. Postal Service.
The Postal Service has been around for more than 200 years. But these days it
is losing a lot of money. It lost $15.9 billion last year. This means you may
not see daily mail delivery much longer, officials say.
Less Mail Means Less Money
One reason is that Americans are sending a lot less mail. They go online to
write letters and pay bills. They read magazines on the internet.
The head of the postal service has cut jobs. He has closed some buildings. He
has taken other steps to try to save money. But the savings have not been
enough. Too little money is coming in. The post office is not selling enough
“We are in real trouble, ” Mickey Barnett told Congress last month. He is the
head of the Postal Service Board of Governors. The board selects the head of the
The Postal Service is set up like a business. But it answers to Congress.
This makes it hard to change, said Mike Schuyler. He studies postal issues.
“It’s really in handcuffs” because of what Congress says it must do, Schuyler
The Postal Service recently tried to end Saturday letter delivery. That could
have saved $2 billion per year. Congress blocked it. Some lawmakers tried to
replace doorstep delivery with curbside delivery. But that also was blocked.
Officials wanted to close thousands of country post offices. That would have
saved money. But it would have upset Congress, so it did not happen.
Recent Law Caused Big Problems
But one of the biggest problems has nothing to do with the mail. A 2006 law
made the Postal Service start putting money away for postal workers who will
retire. The money will go to pay for their health care when they stop working.
This costs about $5.6 billion a year. But the people will not retire for 50
Some people say this means the money trouble is not really as bad as it
The law also says the Postal Service can only raise rates a certain amount.
Meanwhile, the U.S. first class stamps are cheap when compared with stamps in
other rich countries.
The Postal Service and its workers agreed to the 2006 law. Back then it
looked like the service could afford it. Then in 2008, money suddenly became
tight for people and businesses. Banks that typically send lots of mail were
hurting. Homeowners were not receiving a lot of mail either, said Jim Sauber,
who represents letter.
Two congressmen want to end the rule that the post office must pay ahead to
care for retirees. They also want to allow the Postal Service to raise rates
more easily. Postal workers support the bill, and it has some supporters in the
Senate and the House.
But some members of Congress disagree. Congress needs to correct basic
problems, like a lack of flexibility, they say.
The country's founders said there should be a Postal Service. The service has
survived new technology before. Not all technology has hurt. Package delivery
has increased by 14 percent in recent years as more people shop online.
Postal workers are quick to point out what the service does well. It has been
rated the most productive postal service in the world. Customers like the
On Clark’s route, Ruth Hartmann made her position clear. She was concerned
about Clark’s ability to pay for his daughter’s college. “If they reduce
service, it seems to me they would have a pay cut, probably his benefits, and
that is an absolute ‘no,’ ” Hartmann said.
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