Head of U.S. Postal Service says delivery could be scaled back to 3 days a week

MIAMI - AUGUST 05: U.S. Postal Service mail carrier, Alberto Jo, drives the mail truck as he delivers mail to homes on August 5, 2010 in Miami, Florida. In its most recent quarter the U.S. Postal Service reported a $3.5 billion loss, as mail volume fell and retiree health care costs grew. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
U.S. Postal Service mail carrier, Alberto Jo, drives the mail truck as he delivers mail to homes on August 5, 2010 in Miami, Florida.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

With Internet usage rising and mail volume steadily falling, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe warned the U.S. Postal Service is going to have to make significant cutbacks that could mean no more Saturday service and eventually lead to mail delivery just three days a week.

The Postal Service's "cashflow crisis is at a critical level," Donahoe told USA Today in an interview published Wednesday. Donahoe said eliminating Saturday mail would save around $3.1 billion a year for the cash-strapped agency, projected to lose $8.3 billion this year.

"At some point, we'll have to move to three" days a week of mail delivery, possibly in 15 years, he told the newspaper.

The steady loss of revenue has prompted the Postal Service to evaluate possible cost-saving measures. Donahoe said the USPS is on track to miss a Sept. 30 payment of $5.5 billion to the U.S. Treasury that would allow the Uncle Sam to "pre-fund retired health benefits" of postal workers.

Congress mandated the six-day delivery schedule in 1983, but Donahoe said there may be more support for cutting Saturday service now as the U.S. faces more pressure to improve its fiscal condition.

The idea has "a much better chance today than a year ago. I don't know if I'd say 'likely' yet," Donahoe said.

Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware has introduced legislation that would allow for the Saturday elimination, but the idea is widely opposed by rural lawmakers.

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana worries that residents of states like his would suffer as a result of the shortened delivery schedule, the newspaper reported.

Donahoe noted a USA TODAY/Gallup poll last year found more than half of those polled did not object to losing Saturday delivery.

Other cost-saving measures include a likely one cent increase for First-Class mail in January, and "reviewing 3600 post offices for some change in access." Those changes could include consolidation, closing, or contracting services out to other services. Donahoe assures that the changes will be "wide open" with "a lot of public input."

"There will always be a market for direct mail," he said, and the USPS "will still be an important part of American economy and society."