Facing an unprecedented drop in mail volume and a $13 billion deficit this year, federal postal officials want Congress to approve a plan that would eliminate a hallmark of American mail -- Saturday delivery.
"The postal service has, like a lot of businesses, been experiencing an acute financial crisis," said Beth Barnett, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service's Tennessee district, which includes North Georgia. "We are continuing to lose volume. We are continuing to lose revenue."
While most residents of North Georgia and Southeast Tennessee say trimming mail delivery from six to five days is not a terrible inconvenience, U.S. Postal Service workers say the decision could put many area jobs on the line.
"This is not the solution to the Post Office's financial woes," said Avery Duncan, who has carried mail in Chattanooga for 11 years and is a union representative with the National Association of Letter Carriers. "We will have a reduction in force. I am worried about my job."
Still, many residents say they won't lose any sleep over discontinued Saturday delivery.
"They are going to cut, and I don't mind that much," said Solomon Fussell, a Rossville, Ga., resident. "If you don't have the money, you can't spend it."
* $68 billion -- U.S. Postal Service revenue in 2009
* 40 -- Percentage of the world's card and letter mail volume handled by the service
* 596,000 -- Number of career employees nationwide
* 1.25 billion -- Number of miles driven each year by letter carriers and truck drivers
Source: U.S. Postal Service
The plan to cut Saturday service was announced by Postmaster General John E. Potter earlier this month and is on hold pending Congressional approval, officials said.
Ending Saturday deliveries is one in a series of cutbacks proposed by the U.S. Postal Service in the face of record financial losses. If no action is taken, postal officials say, a whopping $238 billion deficit will exist in 10 years.
Last year, more than 3,000 post offices were threatened with closure or consolidation because of budget tightening. Four Chattanooga area offices -- Highland Park, Murray/Lake Hills, North Chattanooga and East Lake -- were scheduled for closure.
The list has been winnowed down to 150 offices nationwide and no local offices remain at risk, Ms. Barnett said.
For many years, growing use of online bill payment and e-mail has been slicing into the postal service's profits and threatening its long-term viability. Although it is a federal agency, the service relies solely on stamp and product sales to sustain itself. No tax dollars are used to support the postal service, officials said.
And stamp profits -- even with rising stamp costs -- have plummeted in recent years. In 2006, the postal service handled 213 billion pieces of mail. In 2009, that number decreased to 177 billion, records show.
"It is projected that, in the next 10 years, that we will handle only 150 billion," Ms. Barnett said. "Those volume drops are unprecedented."
Postal officials estimate that cutting Saturday delivery will save at least $3 billion annually and a total of $40 billion over the next decade.
Fifty percent of the postal workforce will be eligible to retire in the next 10 years, officials said, and, as those jobs open, many won't be filled. Part-time workers who cover the sixth day on many carrier routes could be laid off, they said.
"The cost savings could be done through attrition," Ms. Barnett said. "There could be fewer delivery drivers."
Toney McCuistonnamecq, who has been delivering mail in Fort Oglethorpe for 25 years, said he worries about the jobs affected by cuts but will be happy to have Saturdays free for a change.
Right now, his off days rotate through the week, he said. One week it's a Monday, another week it's a Tuesday, but he works many Saturdays.
"I have a couple of pre-teens, 10 and 12," Mr. McCuiston said. "I wouldn't mind having the weekend off."