Thousands of Oregonian and millions of American households would no longer receive door-to-door mail delivery service under legislation proposed by Representative Daryl Issa (R-CA). Instead, a growing number of households will be assigned to a local “cluster” box, where mail is distributed by U.S. postal workers to a collection of curbside mail boxes for multiple addresses. In some cases, this may mean a short walk down the street. Others may require a little more effort to retrieve mail.
The advent of the Internet and unlimited calling and text wireless plans—among other factors—have put a major budgetary strain on the United States Postal Service (USPS) in recent years. In 2013 alone, the service had a $5 billion deficit—part of a projected long-term trend unless reform is implemented to make the USPS more streamlined and cost effective.
Issa, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has been targeting postal reform for years to help the USPS remain solvent and save taxpayer dollars. Until now, his efforts have failed to garner much support from either party in Congress. His latest proposal, however, is a scaled back version of previous bills and was recently passed out of his committee by a vote of 18-13. It now awaits possible consideration by the full House of Representatives.
Issa’s plan (HR 4670) specifically calls for gradual elimination of door-to-door mail delivery service to 1.5 million homes per year for the next 10 years, ending Saturday delivery, and closing some of the least financially solvent post offices around the country. The cluster box model proposed by Issa would reduce the overall cost of mail delivery service by $140 per affected household to $240 per year, saving a total of $2 billion annually. According to Issa, simply ending Saturday deliver would also amount to $5 billion in annual savings—total the amount of last year’s USPS deficit.
Despite the USPS’s major financial problems, strong opposition remains to reform. Labor and other opponents of Issa’s plan complain that the cluster box model would be hard to implement in large urban areas where space is scarce and is impractical in more rural areas. Ending Saturday delivery could also have an impact on businesses that will lose a day of mail distribution. Some Oregon lawmakers, such as Senator Jeff Merkley, are particularly concerned that rural post offices will be targeted for closure, affecting rural Oregonians.
Some type of reform may start to gain further momentum, however, as the ailing USPS continues to falter under declining revenues and demands for its service. Proposals similar to Issa’s have already been implemented or are currently being strongly considered by other Western countries.
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