Saturday Mail Cut Loophole: Post Office Boxes

Customers can get Saturday mail for a price.

March 30, 2010 — -- Want to keep getting your mail on Saturdays? Try a post office box.

Under the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service's plan to cut Saturday delivery and trim its delivery schedule from six days a week to five, mail would continue to be delivered on Saturdays to the more than 13 million P.O. boxes across the country. Postal Service officials hope that, with Congressional approval, the Saturday service cut could be implemented in 2011, but an expected months-long review by regulators could slow the plan. (Read on for more.)

Deputy Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe told reporters Monday that the U.S.P.S. does not know how much demand could rise for post office boxes as a result of Saturday delivery cuts, but said that the Postal Service is prepared for any potential increase.

"If we have to add more boxes to any post office in the country, we'll have room," he said.

P.O. box rates range from $12 for six months for the smallest boxes to hundreds of dollars for larger boxes, depending on post office location. Some U.S. residents who don't receive at-home mail delivery are eligible for free boxes.

Post office box fees generated nearly $904.7 million in revenues for the U.S.P.S. last year.

The P.O. box alternative isn't enough to satisfy at least some customers who prefer traditional Saturday delivery, like Raul Godoy of Miami, who says he won't be renting a box.

"I don't want the added expense and/or hassle of having to go to get my mail," he said in an e-mail to

Sara Damelio, the owner of Skincando Inc., a Washington, D.C. skin care product company, said she won't get a box, either. She wants to get merchandise delivered to her customers as quickly as possible, she said, and having a P.O. box so she can receive mail, she said, won't help if Saturday deliveries are scrapped and her deliveries are delayed.

"It's the shipping time that's important," Damelio said. Customers, she said, "want it now. This is a now-based society."

Complaints from Damelio and others notwithstanding, the U.S.P.S. says several surveys show that, overall, both business owners and individual customers support the Postal Service's proposed Saturday delivery cut.

Customers said that "one day less of delivery is better than no Postal Service at all," Donahoe said.

Customers Could See P.O. Box Rate Increase

The Postal Service says the service cut is necessary to help the struggling agency avoid a $238 billion deficit between 2010 and 2020. The Postal Service projects that eliminating Saturday door-to-door delivery could save $40 billion over that period.

With or without the five-day delivery plan, some P.O. box customers could see their rates increase.

Earlier this month, the Postal Service asked its government regulator, the Postal Regulatory Commission, to allow it more flexibility in changing post office box rates at 49 post offices that compete with nearby private mailbox businesses. Postal officials say that, if approved, this will result in rates for some P.O. box rates rising and others declining.

The changes will allow the U.S.P.S. "greater flexibility to meet the emerging needs of customers and to respond more quickly to changing market dynamics," Robert F. Bernstock, the president of U.S.P.S. Mailing and Shipping Services, said in a written statement announcing the proposed change.

Postal Regulatory Commission chairwoman Ruth Goldway said the panel would likely take about three months to review the proposal. Goldway stopped short of saying that the commission would approve the proposal, but did describe it as "not controversial" and "something we can decide upon quickly."

Gaining Regulator Approval for Saturday Cut May Take Months

What's proven to be decidedly more controversial is the PRC's anticipated review of the post office's plan to cut Saturday delivery.

Unlike the post office box rate change, the delivery cut does not require the PRC's approval -- that's up to Congress. But Donahoe said that the U.S.P.S. would like to include an opinion from the PRC as it makes its case to Congress for why Saturday delivery should be eliminated. Earlier this month, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the proposed delivery cut could lead the Postal Service to lose more business, sending the self-funded agency into a potential "death spiral."

The U.S.P.S. submitted the plan for the commission's review today and that it hopes to gain the panel's approval within 90 days.

Goldway, however, says it will likely take the commission between six and nine months to issue an opinion.

"We're obligated to provide an opportunity for the public to participate" in the commission's decision, she said. "It's just a process of filing testimony, having people have a chance to review it, comment on it, ask for cross-examination and rebuttal. All of that takes probably a minimum of six months."

Goldway suggested that the U.S.P.S. share some of the blame in any delays associated with cutting Saturday delivery. The Postal Service, she said, had initially said it would file its plan in October.

"It took them from the summer of 2009 until now to complete their research and input before bringing it to us and they don't have the statutory obligations we do to provide the due process," she said.

Donahoe said Tuesday that the U.S.P.S. is "encouraging them to go faster." The longer it takes for the Postal Service to make the money-saving Saturday cuts, the "deeper in the hole" the agency will be with regard to deficits.

"We've got to act as quickly as possible," he said.

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