published Friday, February 8th, 2013

Many who grew up with snail mail ready to let Saturday go

The financially struggling U.S. Postal Service wants to stop delivering mail on Saturdays but continue to deliver packages six days a week under a plan aimed at saving about $2 billion a year.
The financially struggling U.S. Postal Service wants to stop delivering mail on Saturdays but continue to deliver packages six days a week under a plan aimed at saving about $2 billion a year.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

SEAL BEACH, Calif. — The death of Saturday mail delivery would seem to have the biggest impact in places such as Leisure World, where residents — many in their 80s and 90s — grew up with the mailbox as their connection to the rest of the world.

But many people just don’t care in the Southern California community where life slowly revolves around golf, card games and splashing in a heated pool.

Now there’s email for letter-writing and Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and relatives. And there’s snail mail for ... Well, for what, really?

“All we get anymore are bills,” laughed Leisure World resident Albert Rodriguez, 83, a retired bus driver whose wife Gladys quickly corrected him.

“We also get junk mail,” she added with a smile as she pushed the couple’s groceries in a cart.

Some older people might remember the days of waiting anxiously for the Sears catalog or “Saturday Evening Post” to land in their mailbox. But those days died long before the U.S. Postal Service announcement this week that it plans to kill Saturday deliveries except for packages.

Many of the 9,000 people who live at Leisure World, a seaside village in the suburbs of Los Angeles, have no problem with forgoing bills until Monday.

Sure, the change might require putting checks in the mail a bit sooner to pay those bills, but that shouldn’t be a problem for a generation brought up to pay its debts on time.

“I’ve never lived paycheck-to-paycheck,” said 86-year-old Yehuda Keller. “I wasn’t raised that way.”

Still, he said he will miss thumbing through Saturday’s mail just a little because it’s something he has always done. His wife actually enjoys sorting through junk mail to look for bargains.

In days gone by, waiting for the mail was a happy ritual for many, especially when they were expecting a new catalog touting the latest fashions.

“Oh my God, my grandma depended on those,” said 77-year-old Lynette Waltner, adding the Lane Bryant catalog was the favorite of her grandmother.

These days the catalog of just about every venerable clothier is online.

Like many seniors, Waltner still pays her bills by snail mail because she doesn’t trust online transactions. She doesn’t email much either, and she’s decided Facebook is a big waste of time.

But the idea of waiting around on a Saturday to see if an important letter might actually arrive? Forget about it.

“I’d rather play golf,” Lautner laughed as she climbed back into her pickup truck after a round of golf and quick stop at a store.

Someone who will miss Saturday mail is 86-year-old Dorothy Havlik of South Bend, Ind.

For 30 years she’s been writing letters to her son and daughter and mailing them every Saturday.

She and her husband, Robert, have email, and he is big on Facebook. The couple even pays a lot of bills online. But the Saturday letters to the kids began when they left for college, and Havlik says she let out a sigh of regret when she heard deliveries were being eliminated.

Still, she’s well aware of the financial troubles of the Postal Service, and says it’s well worth the sacrifice if the change will help keep her local post office open and mail coming right to the door on days it snows.

As for her Saturday mailing ritual:

“I’ll probably have to switch it to Fridays,” she said.

Questions and answers

WASHINGTON — We could soon be seeing the end of Saturday mail delivery.

The Postal Service has announced plans to cut back to five-day-a-week deliveries for everything except packages to stem its financial losses in a world where the Internet has dramatically altered how we communicate and pay our bills.

“Our financial condition is urgent,” Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe declared Wednesday.

The way the Postal Service describes it, the move allows the service to change with the times in hopes of eventually operating in the black.

But efforts by the service to make cutbacks before have been stymied by Congress.

Some questions and answers about the Postal Service plan:

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Q: What is the plan and when would it take effect?

A: Beginning in early August, mail would be delivered to homes and businesses only from Monday through Friday but would still be delivered to post office boxes on Saturdays.

Post offices now open on Saturdays would remain open and delivery of packages of all sizes would continue six days a week.

Packages have been a bright spot for the agency. Package delivery has increased by 14 percent since 2010, officials said, while the delivery of letters and other mail has plummeted.

———

Q: Why has the Postal Service decided to cut back its delivery schedule?

A: Money.

The Postal Service suffered a $15.9 billion loss in the past budget year and has forecast more red ink in 2013. It says it expects to save $2 billion annually with the Saturday cutback. The Postal Service, an agency independent of government, does not receive tax money for its operations but is subject to congressional control over major aspects.

The majority of the service’s red ink comes from a 2006 law forcing it to pay about $5.5 billion a year into future retiree health benefits, something no other agency does. Without that payment — $11.1 billion in a two-year installment last year — and related labor expenses, the mail agency sustained an operating loss of $2.4 billion for the past fiscal year, lower than the previous year.

The Postal Service is in the midst of a major restructuring throughout its retail, delivery and mail-processing operations. Since 2006, it has cut annual costs by about $15 billion, reduced the size of its career workforce by 193,000, or 28 percent, and consolidated more than 200 mail-processing locations, officials say.

————

Q: What has been the reaction to the plan?

A: It has been met with vigorous objections from farmers, the letter carriers’ union and plenty of lawmakers.

Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich called it “bad news for Alaskans and small business owners,” who he said need timely delivery to rural areas.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she was disappointed, questioned the savings estimate and worried that the loss of Saturday service might drive customers away.

“The Postal Service is the linchpin of a $1 trillion mailing and mail-related industry that employs more than 8 million Americans in fields as diverse as direct mail, printing, catalog companies, magazine and newspaper publishing and paper manufacturing,” she said. “A healthy Postal Service is not just important to postal customers but also to our national economy.”

Despite that opposition, the Postal Service clearly thinks it has a majority of the American public on its side. The service’s market research indicates that nearly 7 in 10 people support the switch as a way to reduce costs, Donahoe said.

And two Republican lawmakers said they had sent a letter to leaders of the House and Senate in support of the elimination of Saturday mail. It is “common-sense reform,” wrote Rep. Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

————

Q: Can the Postal Service really make this change?

A: It thinks so. Over the past several years, the Postal Service has advocated shifting to a five-day delivery schedule for mail and packages — and it repeatedly but unsuccessfully has appealed to Congress to approve the move.

The proposed change is based on what appears to be a legal loophole. Congress has long included a ban on five-day-only delivery in its spending bills, but because the federal government is now operating under a temporary spending measure rather than an appropriations bill, the Postal Service’s Donahoe says it’s the agency’s interpretation that it can make the change itself.

“This is not like a ‘gotcha’ or anything like that,” he said. The agency essentially wants Congress to keep the ban out of any new spending bill after the temporary measure expires March 27.

Might Congress try to block the idea?

“Let’s see what happens,” Donahoe said. “I can’t speak for Congress.”

———

Q. What do regular mail customers think?

A. Reaction has been mixed, with some people criticizing the decision and others saying it would have little or no impact on them.

“It is bad news, a bad decision, let me tell you,” Konstantine Christov, 73, said while riding the El train in Chicago. “You can read the mail much more quietly on Saturday. I get news from my bank. I can plan for next week. If I need to pay my bills I have more time to do it.”

“The mail isn’t that important to me anymore. ... I don’t sit around waiting for it to come,” said James Valentine, the owner of an antiques shop in Toledo, Ohio. “It’s a sign of the times. ... It’s not like anyone writes letters anymore.”

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