Canceled Mail: Could the U.S. Postal Service Really Close?

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Cash. Some have it; some don’t. The United States Postal Service sits squarely in the Have Nots group, unable to make a $5.5 billion payment due this month and on the verge of shutting down entirely without Congress taking emergency action, according to a New York Times report.

Already, the threats from the USPS have mounted up: Closing one in 10 USPS locations—that equals about 3,700 jobs for those keeping score at home. Canceling Saturday delivery and slashing one-fifth of its workforce—again, the numbers are staggering at 120,000 workers. But the biggest threat came from the postmaster general, Patrick R. Donahoe, who tells the Times, “Our situation is extremely serious. If Congress doesn’t act, we will default.”

Closing down shop? That’s the reality facing the agency. The USPS already owes over $9 billion and with revenues continually shrinking due to high internet usage for everything from correspondence, catalogs and bill payments and costs still pushing higher, there’s no light at the end of the postal service tunnel. The agency has handled 22% fewer pieces of mail the past year versus five years ago, and experts predict that figure only to worsen.

(MORE: Because of Cost Cutting, 1 in 10 Post Offices May Be Licked)

Cue the politicians. With labor unions at the heart of the issue—USPS contracts include a no-layoffs clause for a staff that enjoys a screaming-great healthcare benefit package and accounts for 80% of all USPS expenses, far outpacing the ratio for the UPS (53%) and FedEx (just 32%)—Congress will continue the debate on what to do with the government-monitored agency on Tuesday.

The $5.5 billion due on Sept. 30 doesn’t directly impact service, just retirees’ future healthcare. But missing the mega-payment this month signifies the reality that money for daily costs could run out sometime this winter. Without money to pay workers or move trucks—fighting rain, sleet or snow—to and fro, there will be no mail service.

But don’t expect a quick fix (not that you did anyway). With the postal service not allowed to make its own decisions—Congress sets the rules on everything from how much the agency can charge for a stamp to what days it must deliver—the federal government will need to loosen up something to let the agency enact the changes it feels it needs to survive. Of course, many in Congress don’t feel the USPS will make the right decision on what areas to cut. Ending Saturday service will only chop 2% from the overall budget and is widely an unpopular option.

MORE: Fewer Postal Workers Are Paid to do Nothing

Tim Newcomb is a contributor for TIME. Find him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

5 comments
MOS_Austen84
MOS_Austen84

In "Like Water for Chocolate", the name of the main character is "Tita", not "Tina" :P

JohnCottingham
JohnCottingham

maybe the usps wouldn't be broke if they didn't ship all over the country before they deliver. i'm in il. waiting on a box from ohio that is in iowa right now. someone in the usps should take a geography lesson. how can you not go broke handling a box 3 days longer than you have to?