WASHINGTON -- Saturday mail delivery would be ended in a year and the Postal Service could start shipping alcoholic beverages under a plan offered Friday by two key senators seeking to turn around the struggling agency's finances.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, and the panel's ranking Republican, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, said they hope Congress can act quickly to help the agency.
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The Postal Service lost $16 billion last year, $11 billion of it in congressionally-mandated payments to its health fund for future retirees.
The Senate plan includes changes in how pensions and retiree health care costs are calculated in an attempt to stabilize the agency's finances.
It also would impose a two-year moratorium on closing mail processing plants. The agency would be allowed to ship beer, wine and spirits to compete with private shippers such as FedEx, under the proposal.
Door-to-door service for new residential and business addresses would cease to help the Postal Service shift to less costly curbside and cluster box delivery. The measure would require the agency to try to convert residential addresses on a voluntary basis from door-to-door service to curbside and cluster box delivery.
The agency has been moving toward curbside and cluster box delivery in new residential developments since the 1970s.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recently approved a bill by its chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., for the service to gradually shift from door delivery to cluster box and curbside delivery, which includes mailboxes at the end of driveways.
Issa's bill also would end Saturday delivery and change how pension and retiree health costs are calculated to bolster the agency's budget.
The Postal Service has been seeking legislation that would allow it to eliminate Saturday mail delivery and to reduce its congressionally mandated $5 billion annual payment for future retiree health benefits. It missed two of those $5 billion payments last year and is expected to miss another at the end of September.
About 1 in 3 mail customers has door-to-door delivery, which costs the agency about $350 per year. Curbside delivery costs on average $224 per year for each address, while cluster box delivery averages $160.
Earlier this year, the service backpedaled on its plan to end Saturday mail delivery after running into opposition in Congress. It has tried repeatedly over the past several years to persuade Congress to approve ending Saturday mail delivery.
The National Association of Letter Carriers has said ending Saturday delivery would in particular hurt small businesses along with rural residents and the elderly, who depend more heavily on the mail for prescription drugs and other goods.