Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe announces a plan in Washington to keep… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)
WASHINGTON — TheU.S. Postal Servicebacked off from a proposal to close thousands of rural post offices, opting instead to cut opening hours in a bid to stem devastating financial losses.
The postal service estimates that the new plan will save $500 million a year once it is fully implemented in 2014. The previous proposal would have closed more than 3,000 rural post offices to save $200 million a year.
Under the plan outlined Wednesday, 13,167 post offices will open for two to six hours a day. A spokeswoman for the postal service said that no community would be required to close its post office, although they could chose to do so and opt instead for home delivery.
"We've listened to our customers in rural America and we've heard them loud and clear. They want to keep their post office open," Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in a statement. "We believe today's announcement will serve our customers' needs and allow us to achieve real savings to help the Postal Service return to long-term financial stability."
The plan for shorter hours has to be reviewed by the Postal Regulatory Commission. Communities will be invited to respond before opening hours are changed.
The postal service loses $25 million a day and in February published a comprehensive plan to restore itself to profitability, which included measures to eliminate Saturday delivery.
The Senate last month passed legislation that would curb those plans, delaying a decision on Saturday delivery for at least two years and making it harder to close post offices, particularly in rural areas.
The Senate plan would refund $11 billion the postal service overpaid into a federal retirement benefits account, and let the service use the money to encourage as many as 100,000 workers to take buyouts.
"I am disappointed the postal service is moving forward to reduce post office hours while Congress is still considering reform legislation to put the USPS back on sound financial ground," Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), one of the Senate bill's sponsors, said in a statement. "But I am encouraged that the announced changes are consistent with the Senate-passed postal reform legislation."
Despite Wednesday's announcement, the long-term future of the postal service hangs in the balance. The House has yet to move on its postal reform bill, and the plans it is weighing would permit more aggressive cuts to service than the Senate legislation. Resolving the differences between the two bills could be difficult.
But Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who is cosponsoring the House bill, said he favored finding savings through changes in the way the USPS serves cities, rather than asking rural communities to bear the brunt of cuts.
"Under House postal reform legislation, USPS would achieve substantial savings — and improve customer service — by shifting retail access in densely populated areas to less expensive alternatives that offer superior hours," he said.