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Andy Rooney on Postal Service woes

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America’s one and only public crank, Andy Rooney, weighs in on the Postal Service’s plan to close hundreds of post offices (h/t Ed O’Keefe). He hates the idea:

There’s definitely a generational gap here: People of Rooney’s age have a sentimental attachment to the mail that just doesn’t exist in younger generations. And obviously that stems from how frequently each group uses the mail. My grandparents still send me hand-written letters. My friends? Not so much. They rarely go to their post office, so they don’t have any sentimental attachment to the place. (If Gmail were shut down, on the other hand, they’d be marching in the streets in protest.)

The Postal Service is scheduled to release its updated list of post office closures later this week, by the way. It will probably be far smaller than the original list presented to Congress in August.

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Summer mail sale

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The mail is going on sale!

Not all of it, though. The increasingly cash-strapped Postal Service is holding a “summer sale,” but it only affects Standard Mail, a cheaper kind of postage often used for advertising. (Letters, on the other hand, use First-Class Mail.) It runs from July 1 to September 30; eligible mailers need to send at least one million pieces of Standard Mail each year.

How much is the discount? That gets a little complicated. From the Postal Regulatory Commission filing:

The “Summer Sale” program… will provide a 30 percent rebate to eligible mailers on Standard Mail letters and flats volume above a mailer-specific threshold. The threshold is calculated by taking the percentage change between a mailer’s postal fiscal year-to-date (October 2008 through March 2009) volume and the volume mailed in the same period last year, and applying that percentage to the volume the mailer mailed between July 1, 2008, and September 30, 2008.

Get all that?

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More bad numbers ahead

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The Postal Service’s board of governors is meeting early next month to discuss, among other things, the financial results from the second quarter of 2009. There’s not much optimism about the numbers, considering USPS lost $384 million in the first quarter, which is traditionally the strongest of the year.

Another bad sign: UPS’ earnings report. The shipping giant said its first-quarter earnings were down by 56 percent, and it expects the second quarter to be worse than previously expected.

It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison between UPS and the Postal Service. UPS is a huge multinational corporation. And its products are more vulnerable to a downturn in the economy: Your bank still mails you statements during a recession, but you probably don’t order as many packages from Amazon.com.

Nonetheless: not a good sign for USPS.

On a related note, there’s still been no action on H.R. 22, the bill that would give the Postal Service some needed relief from its future retiree health benefit obligations. The bill has been in limbo before a House committee for two months.

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Postal Service finishes negotiations with NALC

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I wrote yesterday about negotiations between the Postal Service and the National Association of Letter Carriers, which represents more than 214,000 city letter carriers.

The negotiations are finished; both sides just agreed on a deal that allows the Postal Service to rapidly adjust delivery routes for city carriers. About 90,000 routes will be reviewed this year; the changes could take effect as early as this summer.

The Postal Service reviewed about 70,000 city routes last year, and 2,400 of them were eliminated.

We’ll have more details later today…

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Latest postal casualty: wilderness airmail

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With the U.S. Postal Service poised to run out of money by year’s end, it’s had to make some tough calls. It’s cutting management and supervisory positions, encouraging employees to retire early and closing administrative offices.

Its latest target? A rural airmail service that provides weekly mail delivery to about 20 addresses scattered across hundreds of square miles of Idaho backcountry.

Facing a $6 billion deficit this year, the Postal Service says it can no longer afford to make the deliveries. That’s cold comfort to the residents, of course, who pay extra to get necessities such as food and medicine delivered along with the mail.

One of those residents tells National Public Radio that he wonders if the Postal Service will begin cutting delivery to other rural areas where delivery is cost-prohibitive.

Oh, we almost forgot to mention the savings the Postal Service is reaping from cutting this costly service: $46,000 a year.

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A tale of three charts

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We’ve been writing a lot lately about the Postal Service’s financial woes, and I thought a few graphics might illustrate why it’s in such a tough position.

First, mail volume since 2000. You’ll notice that First-Class and Express mail volumes have dropped significantly; Standard Mail has increased modestly:

Standard Mail dipped a bit last year. That’s probably temporary: Once the economy turns around, the numbers will stabilize. But the declines in First-Class and Express Mail? Those are probably permanent.

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Postal Service: Mail volume drops 5 billion pieces

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The Postal Service just announced its financial results from the first quarter of 2009, and they were pretty bleak. Bear in mind — the first quarter is usually the Postal Service’s busiest, because it encompasses the holiday season (it runs Oct. 1 – Dec. 31).

Mail volume declined by 5.2 billion pieces, compared to 2008 — more than a 9 percent decline. The biggest decline was in Standard Mail, which dropped about 11 percent. That’s probably because of the recession; the housing and financial sectors are big mailers, so when they hit a downturn, so does Standard Mail.

But First-Class Mail — the Postal Service’s flagship product, and a very profitable one — was also down 1.8 billion pieces, a 7.2 percent decline from last year.

So despite some big cost reductions, like eliminating 27 million work hours, the Postal Service still posted a $384 million loss for the quarter.

And postal officials don’t expect the picture to improve for a while, certainly not this year.

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Gunfire halts mail delivery in Chicago neighborhood

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“Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night” is supposed to keep the U.S. Postal Service from delivering mail door-to-door across the country. But apparently, it draws the line at hail …. a hail of bullets, that is.

According to a Chicago television news report, postal carriers in the Windy City stopped delivering mail to dozens of homes in a particularly dangerous south suburban neighborhood nearly two weeks ago after a morning shooting occurred yards away from a mail carrier.

Residents’ mail is being held at the local post office while officials discuss possible solutions, such as putting a cluster box on a street corner for all of the homes. Guess better police patrols isn’t an option.

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