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USPS Survives Rain, Snow, Sleet - But Not Recession?

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Postal service becomes latest member of the bailout parade.

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If I decide to trek to my local post office in New York, which is located nearly 20 minutes away, I feel compelled to bring along a survival kit and K-rations. Beforehand, I clear my schedule for the whole day.

The wait time averages more than 60 minutes (not bad, given other post offices I've visited in the area) and the entire day is one long rush hour. The traffic never abates. It's a gritty and grim scene. Dust collects on everything -- shades, countertops, bins -- and the clerks seem to compete in an intra-office game of who can act the rudest.

I don't blame the workers. They're merely pawns in a crumbling organization that we recently learned is broke. Last Wednesday, John E. Potter, the Postmaster General became the latest executive to request a bailout. The Postal Service, he said, will run out of money this year unless it gets help.

Surprising? Not really. But this is the wealthiest and supposedly most advanced country on the planet -- heck, in the history of the world -- and some of our most basic and necessary services are in jeopardy. The postal service is bankrupt, libraries are being closed, public transportation is being shut down, and public schools are failing. It's only a slight exaggeration to say this state of affairs resembles the countries of the old Soviet bloc.

The USPS news made me shudder. Even if it reduces service to 5 days a week this year, as the Postmaster General proposed, it will still face a massive shortfall in 2010.

"We are facing losses of historic proportion," Potter told Congress. "Our situation is critical."

The agency hopes to cut $5.9 billion from its budget this year, but next year could bring a $6 billion deficit, Potter told Congress. It lost $2.8 billion last year and will lose more this year, despite a rate increase set for May 11. Potter said going to 5 days a week could save $3.5 billion annually.
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