Have you written any personal letters lately? If you sent an e-mail message instead, you are part of a national trend. Fewer people are sending personal mail through the U.S. Postal Service. Fewer people are also paying bills by traditional mail as well.
"What we're looking at is that single-piece, first-class stamped envelope," postal spokesman Victor Dubina said.
"That's the one where you peel a stamp off, put it on the envelope and mail it. That part of our business has dropped to 1964 levels; obviously affected by the economy, but probably in greater part affected by how people communicate anymore. E-mail messages, pay bills online. You can e-mail documents now. And when you have the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service following guidelines laid out to them by Congress to move more and more of their transactions online, that affects our overall mail volume."
PHOTO BY KEVIN RISNER
Tiffin Post Office Supervisor Alan Hamm completes a transaction at a computer terminal in the mail processing area of the local post office.
An unidentified Tiffin postal worker sorts catalogs for carriers to deliver to local residents.
Even the U.S. Postal Service has to watch the bottom line.
"When it affects mail volume, it costs us lost revenue," Dubina said. "We're not making money. We're in the same boat as everybody else. When you don't have enough money to pay your bills, you've got some hard choices to make."
According to a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the U.S. Postal Service recorded a loss of $2.8 billion during 2008.
By the end of the 2008, the Postal Service had a total debt of $7.2 billion - equal to the entire payroll of the U.S. Postal Service for about a month and a half. Payroll accounts for about 80 percent of USPS expenses.
"Our overall mail volumes in 2006 peaked at 213 billion pieces," Dubina said. "In 2007, it slipped by a billion pieces, so we went down to 212 billion pieces. In 2008, we lost 9.5 billion pieces. We were at 202 billion pieces. Now the projections are, based on the volumes occurring, we could see a decline of another 15 billion pieces during this year."
Dubina said the USPS loses between $350 million and $380 million in revenue every time mail volume drops by 1 billion pieces. If mail volume declines 15 billion during 2009, the USPS could lose between $5.2 billion and $5.7 billion in revenue.
First class mail peaked in 2001. That year 103 billion pieces of first class mail were processed through the USPS.
"Since then it has been steadily declining. First class, that single piece that you put a stamp on," Dubina said.
Dubina said more customers are opting for online bill paying and less personal correspondence through the USPS.
Other than borrowing more money, the only option for the USPS is to become more efficient. Part of GAO's report said the Postal Service has excess capacity in its mail processing facilities. GOA recommended aggressive action by USPS.
Accelerated volume declines and changes in the public's use of mail indicate that USPS needs to move beyond incremental efforts and take aggressive action to streamline its workforce and network costs to assure its long-term viablitity," the GAO report said.
The GAO report offered more detailed recommendations for the long-term viability of the USPS.
"We have reported for many years that USPS needs to rightsize its workforce and realign its network of mail processing and retail facilities," the report said. "USPS has made some progress, particularly by reducing its workforce by more than 100,000 employees with no layoffs and by closing some smaller mail processing facilities. Yet, more will need to be done."
GAO also included a note about other options, including the more radical consideration of changing USPS universal service from six to five delivery days-an issue Congress would need to consider.
In the local area, the Tiffin Post Office is not likely to be significantly impacted by radical cuts. Tiffin Postmaster Ellen Rohrbacher said local postal service employment is stable. Job reductions have been made by not replacing retiring workers. The next potential target for downsizing in the area, however, is the Mansfield mail processing center. Tiffin's mail is processed in Mansfield. Employees from the Mansfield facility have been visible in the area asking for public support for the status quo.
"Right now the mail in Tiffin goes to Mansfield," Dubina said. "Again, we are talking (about) that single piece, that part the floor is falling out from under. Does it make sense to keep doing it the way we are doing it? Because we've got machines set up in Mansfield and we've got machines set up in Akron. Does it make sense to combine it and get as much out of the machines as we possibly can?"
Dubina said the Mansfield facility has two automated canceling machines while Akron has seven.
There are no plans now under consideration to close the Mansfield facility, Dubina said. If the Mansfield facility ever is closed, customers in Tiffin would not notice any difference in service, he said. Mail would travel to and from Akron in that case with no noticeable delays.
"Our prices are capped now under the new law that went into affect in 2006," Dubina said. "We can only raise (postal rates) to the Consumer Price Index for the previous 12 months. In the old days, if we needed a nickel we would have gone for the nickel. But today if the Consumer Price Index says you guys can only get 2 cents, somewhere we've got to make up the difference for the 3 cents. The new law puts the pressure on us, to say 'You guys have to become more efficient. Get redundancies out of your system.' As the GAO reports, they are pushing us on that."