WASHINGTON - Millions of Americans would no longer get mail delivered to their door but would go to communal or curbside boxes instead, under a proposed law.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform debated Wednesday a bill to direct the U.S. Postal Service to convert 1.5 million addresses annually - 15 million over the next decade - to the less costly, but also less convenient delivery method.
"I think it's a lousy idea," said Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts. He was joined by some other lawmakers in saying it wouldn't work in urban areas where there's no place on city streets to put banks of so-called "cluster boxes" that have compartments for multiple homes. Under the proposal, waivers could be given to people with disabilities who have difficulty leaving their homes, and people who still want door delivery could pay extra for it - something Lynch derided as "a delivery tax."
The measure falls far short of comprehensive reform most officials agree is needed to solve the postal service's financial problems. Republican committee chairman Darrell Issa of California acknowledged that at the outset but said it "provides an interim opportunity to achieve some significant cost savings."
Converting to communal or curbside delivery would save $2 billion annually, Issa said, quoting from estimates that door delivery costs $380 annually per address compared to $240 for curbside and $170 for centralized methods. He said less than 1 percent of all addresses nationwide would undergo a delivery change annually and that communal boxes offer a safe, locked location for packages, doing away with the need for carriers to leave packages on porches and subject to theft and bad weather.
The Postal Service reported a $1.9 billion loss for the first three months this year despite continued cost-cutting, a 2.3 percent rise in operating revenue and increased employee productivity. Package business has risen but the service struggles with inflationary cost increases and continued decline in first-class mail as people move to the Internet for letter writing and bill paying.
Postal officials have asked repeatedly for comprehensive legislation giving them more control over personnel and benefit costs and more flexibility in pricing and products. Though various legislative proposals have been advanced, Congress has not been able to agree on a bill with broad changes.