Editorial: The USPS needs help

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Prices on a first-class stamp went up last week — the third straight annual rise — but the increase will have little, if any, impact for me. 

In reviewing my own mail over the past several months, in addition to all the e-mails and texting, I've notice a couple of things that have now become standard. One, I'm using less checks, because I'm paying all of my bills, with the exception of rent, online. As a result, that book of stamps that used to last less than a month now carries me through for quite some time. 

And that's the problem.

This week starts a four-day National Postal Forum in Washington, an annual gathering of postal officials and mailing industry professionals. US Postmaster General John Potter opens the forum the morning of May 18, to be followed by another, likely much anticipated, session: a financial briefing on the US Postal Service.

The past several weeks have not brought much good news for the USPS, and the revenues generated from the stamp price increases will do little to ease its financial stress. With a $2.8 billion deficit last fiscal year, the USPS recently reported a year to date loss of $2.3 billion so far this year, which began October 1, citing an "unprecedented" decrease in volume and revenue, given the recession and electronic mailing alternatives. 

The USPS has pointed to its cost-savings efforts: cuts in work hours, realigning carrier routes, freezing top level salaries, cutting travel budgets and more. And it also has floated the idea of a five-day mail delivery schedule.

But the bottom line remains that there is less mail, and it will only continue to decrease. E-mail and other electronic messaging have cut into mail volume substantially. At the other end, as costs rise, direct mailers also are seeking other alternatives. 

What can be done? Some advocates continue to push for a five-day delivery week. That could have immediate cost savings but, at the same time, leave a delivery void that will no doubt be filled quickly by another company, potentially leading to future erosion of customers for the USPS. But at the rate of the drop in postal volume and revenue and the growing losses, alternatives may be limited.

Others say the agency should be fully privatized. If that was the case and it was a private company or bank, the USPS would clearly be one of those in line for a bailout and a likely overhaul.

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