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October 20, 2014

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Postal Service’s money troubles to spread Las Vegas-style mail delivery

Residential cluster mailboxes, like this one in Henderson, will soon have the outgoing mail slots sealed off. The collection boxes are targeted by thieves who beak into the boxes looking to steal and wash outgoing checks.

Residential cluster mailboxes, like this one in Henderson, will soon have the outgoing mail slots sealed off. The collection boxes are targeted by thieves who beak into the boxes looking to steal and wash outgoing checks.

Time is running out to save the U.S. Postal Service from insolvency. Unless Congress can come up with a plan in the next three weeks, the postmaster general will likely begin shutting rural stations and slashing delivery, jeopardizing the future of carriers and the letters they deliver.

In an effort to avoid that scenario, the Senate is considering a bill this week to reform the agency’s finances and change the way the country receives its mail. If all goes according to plan, it would push the nation toward a model that’s been used in Southern Nevada for years — the community mailbox.

“Nevada has a very high efficiency,” postal service spokesman David Rupert said. “The way we deliver mail in Las Vegas — the rest of the country could look much like that.”

The history of mail in Nevada dates back to the Pony Express, but modern postal service has been shaped by rampant growth of the past 20 to 30 years in Las Vegas.

“There was a time when we had a new delivery route every week, at the height of it,” Rupert said. “And the only way to manage that kind of growth was to manage our deliveries” using community mailboxes.

“In the older suburban communities, you find more old-fashioned mailboxes,” said Michael Green, historian and professor at the College of Southern Nevada. “But it’s more efficient to have one mailbox in the newer developments.”

The postal service officially calls them Neighborhood Delivery Collection Box Units, the freestanding groups of aluminum lockboxes found on most suburban streets.

That common feature in Southern Nevada neighborhoods is an anomaly nationwide, however, where mail carriers walk their routes making door-to-door deliveries.

Consider a comparison between metropolitan Las Vegas and metropolitan Milwaukee, a city of comparable size in terms of mail deliveries. Of Las Vegas’ approximately 600,000 addresses, 443,000 are served by community mailboxes. Just 27,000 of Milwaukee’s approximately 660,000 delivery addresses are centralized boxes.

The bill being debated in the Senate would make more cities like Las Vegas. By the end of fiscal 2015, the bill gives the postmaster general the authority to convert almost all door deliveries to either curbside boxes or centralized neighborhood units — changes they believe will save money by allowing mail carriers to make more deliveries without having to exit their vehicles.

In Las Vegas, there are 886 mail routes. In Milwaukee, there are almost 1,200, because carriers can’t deliver to as many addresses. (Milwaukee is smaller in area than Las Vegas.)

Fewer routes means fewer mail carriers, and fewer mail carriers means less cost to the postal service: According to a 2011 Inspector General’s report, the changeover could save $4.5 billion to $9.6 billion a year.

But that’s also why the National Association of Letter Carriers and several lawmakers from eastern states — argue the change would cost the postal service too many jobs.

“Doing away with the delivery aspect would hurt us no matter what kind of mail delivery that you had,” said John Beaumont, a union president in California, the region of the association with jurisdiction over Nevada.

“It’s possible it would impact us a little less because we wouldn’t be consolidating as many routes, but it would still affect us,” said Glenn Norton, president of the union’s Branch 2502, which represents 1,500 letter carriers in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson and Boulder City. “This is one of the last middle-class jobs in the United States, and we’re trying to save it for future generations.”

The end of door-to-door deliveries isn’t the only change in the Senate bill that would jeopardize postal service jobs. So would the elimination of six-days-a-week delivery.

Although the original bill puts a two-year moratorium on eliminating Saturday delivery, it doesn’t take it off the table. After two years, the postmaster general would have the authority to eliminate Saturday delivery if he thought it would help the postal service become profitable by fiscal 2015.

“That’s the beginning of the end to me,” Norton said. “When you’re trying to make a business survive, you don’t cut service.”

But if the postal service is going to avoid cutting service, it’s got to strike a political deal on the part of its finances related to pensions and health plans.

In 2006 — right before the recession, when postal deliveries were at their all-time high — Congress passed a law making it incumbent on the postal service to pay the pension funds of future retirees, projected for the next 75 years.

That fund is now overfunded. Even if one considers the retirees’ pension plans in conjunction with retiree health plans, funding is at 91 percent of their projected need — a cushion that’s almost three times the level for future veterans or any other class of federal government employee.

It’s money that postal workers say could offset up to $5.5 billion of their debt a year, but it would take an act of Congress to make the change.

That’s significant, considering the debt the postal service added to its underwater books in fiscal 2011 was about $5 billion — meaning without the obligation to fund the retiree plans, the postal service would have been in surplus last year.

But convincing members of Congress has been difficult. Without a requirement to fund itself, many lawmakers fear the postal service will turn the government for bailouts.

Conversion of retiree plans is the biggest change in the Senate bill, but the preferred version being considered in the House doesn’t feature anything like it. But without some significant financial shifts, there’s only one option: cuts, large and small.

Rural postmasters aren’t sure at this point which to fear more: A slate of closures and cuts determined by Congress, or one determined by the postmaster general after May 15, when the current moratorium on shuttering offices expires.

There are 15 rural communities potentially on the chopping block in Nevada — some without a school or even a grocery store.

“Once they lose that post office and that sense of community, they lose other things too,” said Barbara Lewis, president of Nevada Sierra Postmasters, the local chapter of the National League of Postmasters, who runs the post office in Overton.

Towns such as Overton, which is not on the list of Nevada towns facing closure, are experts on how to function on a lean budget: There’s no mail delivery, only post office boxes; they do without luxuries such as one-day express mail; and they keep after lawmakers to let them offer more non-postal services to bring in money (another proposal up for consideration in the Senate bill). Closing postal stations is expected to save the postal service less than 1 percent of its total budget — savings that Lewis thinks just aren’t worth the cost.

“For them to close these rural offices, we feel that it takes their identity away,” she said.

The Senate starts considering the postal bill — and up to 40 amendments to it — today.

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  1. I have a concern about the safety of the mail in "community mailboxes." I believe they are vulnerable to break-ins and that could lead to greater I.D. theft. As for Norton's contention that you don't cut service when trying to make a business survive, that's typical bureaucratic nonsense. As a former business owner, I knew, when times got tough, if I did not cut back, I would go out of business. Just look at the LV Sun & R/J as prime examples. The Sun had to opt for a JOA to remain in business and the R/J is a mere shadow of what it was 5 years ago. No business section on Monday's, the sports section down-sized, the comic strips squeezed so dramatically one needs a magnifying glass to read some of them and on & on. But, then, neither can rely on picking the taxpayers pockets to remain in business. They actually have to show a profit in order to "survive!"

  2. Congress should stop meddling and let the UPS do what it needs to to remain solvent: do away with Saturday delivery, layoff some workers and trim back on its facilities.

  3. Funding pensions 75 years in advance is an insane man made problem created by Washington politico's in 2006. No other company or corporation has to operate that way. Thanks to yet another tactic to privatize everything, some in our own misguided government has put the postal service in jeopardy. This problem is easy to fix if congress would simply undo what is should never have done in the first place. They're great at creating problems,...not so good at fixing them.

  4. Just another example of Congress sitting on dead center rather than GET SOMETHING DONE. No excuse. Leave it up to USPS when and how often to deliver--let them manage their agency and operations. Some rural areas might retain delivery if it could be limit to say twice a week--better than no delivery or being forced to drive into a town 50 miles away. And many neighborhoods, like mine, do not need delivery more than 2-3 times a week, if that. Sure, some businesses want and need more frequent delivery. and if Congress can't DO SOMETHING SOON, they'll have to force us all to drive into larger and larger mailbox units--perhaps like storage units. Thus the USPS could keep deliveries up to 5 days a week but we'd all have to get to the mail boxes 'cause the boxes are not going to be in our neighborhoods.

  5. I said this years ago, that its a waste of money delivery to every house, when you could install community boxes. In Arizona, many of the carriers are independent contractors also, another huge savings. Postmasters in each Post Office a total waste. One Postmaster could easly manage 5 post offices. Close all rural Post Offices, and eliminate the free packing materials for Priority mail. I actually know a little about Post Office waste, and most is in upper management. A a example, i know a so called supervisor for a section of the Postal Department on the Northern East Coast. She seldom leaves her home in Florida, and not sure what she does.

  6. Mail is a thing of the past that needs to go away. In today's world and technology, we need to stop the wasteful spending on this program and leave it the private sector. This is why the government is screwed up, just because it worked in the past and was needed, it isn't needed today and they're too stupid to know otherwise.

  7. There are some INSANE negative comments about community mailboxes on this message board. Laughably ridiculous! Gridlock at the mailbox is the dumbest one yet LOLOL.

  8. "Norton's contention that you don't cut service when trying to make a business survive, that's typical bureaucratic nonsense"

    Not really. A business can reduce expenses to improve cash flow, reduce inventory, shift some tasks to in-house rather than outside contractors, etcetera. But when a service-based business starts reducing the quality of service or the availability of its services, that is usually a good indicator that the end is near.

    As for community mailboxes, they work fine, I just find them to be a community eyesore and aesthetically unappealing. Also, when I lived in a suburban neighborhood that forced them upon us, I found the rear main door open on more than one occasion.

  9. Kevin Boyer, Which particular politico's were behind the deliberate attempt to cause the USPS to fail by requiring the overfunding of pensions? Why, if they actually thought this was a good idea (it wasn't), didn't they make it a law for all private businesses as well?

  10. Chunky says:

    Daily postal delivery is an all but outdated concept. Most of what the Chunks family gets at their mailbox is bulk / junk mail which is a waste of trees, fuel, equipment and the staff it takes to get it there.

    Chunky agrees to a small extent that any mail delivered to a home or community mailbox is at risk for theft and consequently uses a PO Box for all important mail.

    A community mailbox is not so bad as it's a chance to occasionally see and chat with some of the neighbors none of us ever get know anymore.

    Eliminating Saturday delivery is a great first step.

    Chunky has noticed as of the last year or so the Post Office personnel are becoming a bit more customer service oriented and offering an up-sell of additional services and delivery options.

    As for the Chunkerlin Post Office it's dirty, nasty and gross! It's seriously scary to touch the doors, the trash cans have years-old soda stains all over them and the floors are gas station bathroom dirty.

    If a person is legitimately unable physically to make it to the community mailbox, then the people or companies mailing to them should be able to pay extra for door to door delivery. Why should the rest of us subsidize that?

    That's what Chunky thinks!

  11. Hand delivery of physical mail is a relic of the past not to mention a jobs program for the incredible number of postal employees. Buggy whips went by the wayside. So must the postal service.

    I literally get something of value delivered perhaps three times per year. Same for outgoing mail. Yes, per year. And this is only because I must deal with some antiquated companies.l

    Times have changed. Hundreds of thousands of postal service employees are no longer needed.

  12. Each time I am forced to go to the post office and use their customer service I am reminded of just why I don't care if these people lose their jobs. Apparently, they don't care either.

  13. HERE IS WHAT WILL HAPPEN if the Postal service is allowed to cut-back services, eliminate post offices, and fire postal workers - especially in the large numbers being floated around to "test the waters."

    1. As any CEO knows, you can't INCREASE REVENUE by cutting sales and services, raising prices, endangering market visibility, or reducing your work force. You could NOT SUSTAIN an adequate level of business activity.

    2. If the Postal Service is allowed to IMPLEMENT the REDUCTIONS they want - they will have DESTROYED the ability of the U.S. Postal Service to deliver the mail, and operate function efficiently and effectively. That also means their DEFICITS will increase due to a REDUCED REVENUE STREAM POTENTIAL.

    3. THEN, IF and WHEN our ECONOMY improves, and Postal Service are then needed in larger numbers (after the reductions) - they WILL NOT BE ABLE TO respond to the (then) INCREASED demand for mail delivery services.

    Neither the Postal Service's mail delivery capabilities, nor the (reduced) INFRASTRUCTURE will exist that can accomodate required mail service to the nation. And to rebuild the Postal Service - at a future date - will COST MUCH MORE than it does to operate it today. It would be much better to concentrate on RESOLVING the DEFICIENCIES.

    I predict that a FURTHER DOWNGRADE in the operation of Postal Services will occur when in the future - the LOSS of physical Post OFfices, reduction in Postal workers, and the EXACERBATED EFFECT of REVENUE LOSSES will cause people to seek OTHER opportunities for mail services.

    The U.S. Constitution says: "The Congress shall have the power ... To establish Post Offices and post Roads." It says NOTHING about privatizing this fuction of government.

    SINCE THE REMOVAL of the Post Office from its FORMER position as a "government agency" the Postal Unions have demanded more money each year - for benefits, operations, and wages. As a result, COSTS HAVE RISEN dramatically. This is also true for the badly MISMANAGED USPS Pension Fund.

    The executives of the Postal Service are PAID (I hesitate to use the word "earn") in the $200,000 to $300,000 range - and - if you think GSA SPENDS a lot of money it shouldn't - just look at the FAREWELL PARTY the Postal Service threw several years ago for their first CEO when he retired.

    They spent several hundered thousand DOLLARS - JUST TO SAY, GOODBYE to him. I guess we are all a "CASH COW" now, because the American people PAY for U.S. MAIL Services at Post Office RATES.

    Since the Postal Service suggestons for becoming SOLVENT do not include or realistically address SPENDING REDUCTIONS, I believe they DO NOT KNOW HOW to REDUCE SPENDING - or are NOT UNWILLING to do so.

    SO, lets solve the problem. Bring the Postal Service BACK UNDER THE GOVERNMENT, operate it like a business, eliminate the high-priced executives, and let AUSTERITY RULE THE DAY. If we don't, it is DOOMED TO FAIL; and FAILURE IS NOT A OPTION.

  14. Fewer routes, fewer mail carriers: "According to a 2011 Inspector General's report, the changeover could save $4.5 billion to $9.6 billion a year."

    WOW! It is true that the USPS is jeopardized by the loss of JUST $4.5 billion/year? They should all get medals and ice cream sandwiches for lunch.

    The Iraq war has been insolvent from the beginning. It cost $120 billion for the military every year in immediate costs, and another ~$100 billion/year for the civilian contractors and armies that had more people in Iraq then the military. A $220 billion/year insolvency with no complaints from those who are trying to close the USPS instead. Now there is an emergency push to save $4.9 billion at the Post Office?

    War was an opportunity for the GOP to create enormous National debt, then use the debt as an argument for ending Social Security, Medicare and now the Post Office. The next in line are highways - sell them off to private bidders and have toll roads. It's a continuing GOP agenda, spend on war until social services, schools, highways AND the Post Office can be disposed and turned into private ventures.

  15. The Far-Right-Wing-Nut-Jobs...

    They won't be happy until they RUIN THE COUNTRY completely.

    This is a MANUFACTURED CRISIS

    As SunJon, Socratic, Jeff & others point out, this is ANOTHER NUTTY, NATION-WRECKING NOTION by the Nattering Nabobs of Right-Wing-Extremism.

    The USPS is a MODEL OF EFFICIENCY, and has not used a DIME OF GOVERNMENT DOUGH since 19 & 71...

    http://www.opednews.com/articles/The-Pos...

    We MUST NOT LET these crazy wacko's win; it's the US MAIL, FOR CRIPE'S SAKE!!!

    OR...
    Have we become that inured to the TeaPublican's constant harping that ALL THINGS GOVERNMENT are INHERENTLY EVIL, that we would jeopardize some of our nation's most effective, imperative & self-sustaining institutions?

    Trillions for wars, billions for bailouts, a license to steal on Wall Street...

    But Social Security, Medicare and the Post office (& perhaps your JOB, HOME, & your RETIREMENT ACCOUNT) these things our fellow Americans should be willing to DO WITHOUT, and NOT QUESTION your 'Patriotic Duty' to do so!

    SAVE THE USPS...
    http://www.saveamericaspostalservice.org...

  16. the average wage of postal workers is about $19-$20 an hour plus benefits, they make about 50k + a year. Imagine all the people who work at McDonalds or WalMart that would be happy to work at 2/3 that and would still be making more with better benefits then they have now. That would keep many employed and lower the cost of doing business. I can't figure why nobody has thought of this before!

  17. In some small Nevada towns the post office is the only ATM in town. Seniors rely on timely medicine delivery's provided by USPS as no medicine arrives through internet service. . . How will rural folks send certified mail or get a money order timely at a cluster box when there PO is closed?

    Billions spent nation building abroad while our country is falling down. Its clear the U.S. congress is the Americans peoples worst enemy as shown by their actions. The post office worked fine until 2006 when "our" elected congress critters put the fix in?

    Changes can be made at the post office to better serve all USPS customers not just the ones living in large metropolitan zip codes. Killing USPS is short sighted and criminal. . .

  18. "Audit of Pentagon Spending Finds $70 Billion in Waste"

    "The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, accounted for $28 billion of that increase."

    "All told, the accountability office said, the projected cost of the Pentagon's largest programs has risen by $135 billion, or 9 percent, to $1.68 trillion since 2008."

    "The other $70 billion of increases appeared "to be indicative of production problems and inefficiencies or flawed initial cost estimates."

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/30/busine...

    To pay for that, cut-backs of mail delivery is being considered to rural and low income communities (along with public schools, medical care, etc.)

    There is plenty of money but the war lords are draining the supply into their own pockets, not for defense but for WASTE which continues unabated. The war syndicates are cannibalizing the traditional institutions that made this Country great for bogus programs.

    Bin Laden began the cannibalization of America with only 19 hijackers creating wild paranoia, and the Dept of Homeland Security has taken over to finish the job.

  19. Many of the rural US Post Offices are a type of lifeline for the older community members. As Paul Rupp pointed out, "In some small Nevada towns the post office is the only ATM in town. Seniors rely on timely medicine delivery's provided by USPS as no medicine arrives through internet service. . . How will rural folks send certified mail or get a money order timely at a cluster box when there PO is closed?"

    The 15 Nevada rural Post Offices are located in areas that contain wilderness areas, that also have freezing cold weather half of the year, and questionable road supervision. Outdoor community boxes leave some mailed medical goods vulnerable. Also, the US Postal employees are the extra eyes watching out for community members, often reporting welfare check ups when something is suspect.

    I have a Lund PO Box, and cannot imagine all the problems with having a community box with the weather there. In previous years, I had a community box in Murrieta, California, and here in Las Vegas, Nevada, and found there were times the US Mail was tampered with or vandalized. Some security IS compromised.

    Let the US Post Office alone, for Congress to quit meddling with them with insane retirement funding demands.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  20. Plenty of money for Iraq with a new 2000 person obscene U.S. embassy near Baghdad. . .

    Plenty of money for Afghanistan as the U.S. committed 10 more years after 2014 until 2024. ..

    Plenty of money for Libya and Syrian rebels...

    No money for U.S. rural postal system--?--

  21. I agree with most of the comments herein in favor of KEEPING the Postal Service running AS IT IS NOW - including some lesser version of other comments that advocate deep cuts or changes in delivery of postal services.

    HOWEVER, "...to save the U.S. Postal Service from insolvency..." the USPS Postmaster General needs to RE-CONSIDER the various negative impacts on this nation's people and business - if the changes he wants are implemented.

    The Postmaster General is supposed to be a "CEO" - responsible to his "Shareholders" (the AMERICAN PEOPLE). When the "Post Office" was removed from under the Federal Government, This change DID NOT RELIEVE the USPS from its Charter MANDATE of delivering the U.S. Mail. The move toward SOLVENCY can be achieved by getting USPS executives to "THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX" for solutions.

    One example of cost-savings is to increase the postage rate for "junk mail," and reduce the MANUAL work-effort needed to process it - which is far more expensive than to process a First Class letter.

    Another idea would be to reduce EXCESSIVE COSTS, such as the current use of FEDEX by the Postal Service to move mail by AIR and GROUND between cities. FEDEX DOUBLED its Commercial price for sending packages, etc., in 2011. When the USPS contracted with FEDEX to move (and deliver) the mail - it set itself up for future COST INCREASES - due to a LACK OF COMPETITION.

    DHL (a company in Germany) used to provide USPS with air delivery service until this year, when they stopped due to added COST ISSUES. So much for competition.

    So, if the USPS Postmaster General begin THINKING "OUT OF THE BOX" - he would, no doubt, find there are many ways to REDUCE COSTS - and cure the emerging insolvency of the USPS.

    ONE LAST POINT regarding "FAIRNESS." As many as 35% of the millions of retired senior citizens, the poor, the sick, or infirm people are either unable - or can't afford - to use the Internet.

    So, if USPS implements their proposed changes in mail delivery and services, millions of citizens will become "DISADVANTAGED" - A CONDITION that the Congress has written massive legislation to cure, and spent $BILLIONS of dollars to prevent - since the 1960's. And the Congress would ALLOW the USPS to, effectively, "REVERSE such legislation" now? Because USPS can't control their SPENDING habits?

    I submit that SUCH ACTION will provide GROUNDS for a class-action LAWSUIT against the USPS - and Members of Congress - to show "misfeasance and malfeasance" in violation of the Constitutional MANDATE to operate Post ofices, and deliver the mail. If the government can increase the Nationl Debt by 5 Trillion dollars in four years, they can find $4 billion to keep Post Offices open.

  22. The Post Master General is appointed and may be carrying out an agenda to promote a certain outcome that is unfavorable to rural post office customers.