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Reactions mixed to Postal Service's decision to stop Saturday delivery

Word that the cash-strapped Postal Service would stop delivering mail on Saturdays hit Lakesha Johnson hard.

"I think that's terrible," the Baltimore woman said Wednesday outside the city's Main Post Office on East Fayette Street. "When they want to save money, it's always us who suffer."

But Don Seto said it wouldn't make much difference to him.

"I pay bills online, I use email," said Seto, a biology professor who also uses the Internet to discuss research with colleagues, during a visit to the downtown Annapolis branch. "Things have changed."

Reactions to the Postal Service's announcement Wednesday that it will cut the home delivery of first-class mail to five days a week starting in August ranged from anger to shrugs.

Mail will still be delivered to post office boxes on Saturdays, and carriers will continue home delivery of packages. But customers expecting letters and magazines at home will have to wait until Monday.

Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said the move, the latest in a series of cost-cutting measures at an agency that lost $16 billion last year, will generate savings of $2 billion annually.

Americans back the change as a way of cutting costs, Donahoe said, citing polls by Gallup and several news organizations in 2010 that showed support at nearly 70 percent.

"The American public understands the financial challenges of the Postal Service," he said. The agency "has a responsibility to take the steps necessary to return to long-term financial stability and ensure the continued affordability of the U.S. Mail."

The rise of email and online banking has taken a deep bite out of postal revenues. A 2006 law that requires massive prepayments for future retiree benefits has drained the agency of cash.

The Postal Service relies on the sale of postage, products and services for funding. It does not receive tax dollars.

Since 2006, officials said, the service has cut annual costs by some $15 billion, shed 193,000 jobs, or 28 percent of its career workforce, and consolidated more than 200 mail-processing locations.

Postal officials have long advocated five-day delivery, while seeking congressional relief from the benefit prepayments.

But with lawmakers unable to agree on a plan to restore the agency to solvency, the service's board of governors last month directed officials to stop waiting for legislation and accelerate cost-cutting measures on their own.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, the top Democrat on the House committee that oversees the Postal Service, said that "comprehensive postal reform legislation" must be "an urgent priority" for Congress.

But he added that "the issue of service delivery frequency should be addressed in that legislation rather than through arbitrary action by the Postal Service."

The American Postal Workers Union, the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association all opposed the plan.

Cliff Gurley, president of the 222,000-member APWU, said it would "only deepen the agency's congressionally manufactured financial crisis."

"The USPS has already begun slashing mail service by closing 13,000 post offices or drastically reducing hours of operation, shutting hundreds of mail processing facilities, and downgrading standards for mail delivery to America's homes and businesses," he said. "The effects are being felt in cities and towns across the country. USPS executives cannot save the Postal Service by tearing it apart."

Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, called five-day delivery a "money-saving, smart move" that will "be a step in rightsizing the post office."

Issa and Sen. Tom Coburn, the top Republican on the Senate committee that oversees the Postal Service, wrote in a letter to House and Senate leaders on Wednesday that five-day delivery is "worthy of bipartisan support."

"They are maintaining six-day [package] delivery for our elderly, and others, who depend on medicines," Issa said on CNBC. "They are maintaining a six-day [Priority Mail] letter delivery. What they're not doing is agreeing to go with one letter to your mailbox for forty-some cents. It's just been unreasonable."

Mel Machovec agreed.

"I just think it's kind of ridiculous," said Machovec, owner of StaleFish Board Co., a skate shop in Bel Air. "How important is that one piece of mail?"

"They do need to do something," echoed Stuart Strick, a longshoreman dropping off a work-related form at the post office in Dundalk. "They're in the hole financially."

But Karenja Saunders said she was reluctant to see another vestige of her childhood vanish.

Saunders, an accountant in Annapolis who described herself as "an e-person," expressed annoyance with bills and junk mail, and said she understands budgetary constraints. But she said mail remains an important link to her mother and grandmother in Florida.

"I prefer Saturday mail because I like having that extra day," she said. "I've been used to it since childhood. I like it."

"What if you've got something important coming?" asked Nicole Mobely, who just moved to Baltimore from Virginia. "You've got to wait two more days."

"I think they should add Sundays," said Ryan Willis, at the Dundalk Post Office.

Salvatore Anello, an attorney in Arbutus, said the change won't affect his firm, because it owns a post office box. But with so much legal paperwork sent through the mail, he expressed concern about future cuts.

"People who are accountants, people who are lawyers, we really need official signatures on things," he said. "And that could be a problem if the post office is, in fact, a dinosaur."

Keesha Johnson, a driving instructor in Baltimore, said her students had little reaction to the news when she raised it with them Wednesday. But she felt a sadness.

"If it has to happen, it has to happen," she said. "But that's going to be a weird adjustment."

Baltimore Sun reporters Alison Knezevich and Andrea F. Siegel and Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters David Anderson, Julie Baughman, Larry Perl and Bryna Zumer contributed to this article.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

twitter.com/matthewhaybrown

Timeline

December 2006: Congress requires the Postal Service to pre-fund 75 years' worth of future retiree benefits within a 10-year span.

July 2011: Postal Service announces plan to close 3,700 small or rural Post Offices (number of closures later reduced).

December 2011: Postal Service announces plans to close more than half of its mail-processing centers and cut 28,000 jobs.

April 2012: Senate approves legislation to allow the Postal Service to offer retirement incentives to 100,000 employees and recover $11 billion from pension funds. House does not move a bill.

Feb. 6, 2013: Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe announces plan to end home delivery of first-class mail beginning in August.

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