– The Washington Post

WASHINGTON – A majority of Americans support ending Saturday mail deliveries to help the U.S. Postal Service solve its financial problems, but most oppose shuttering local branches, according to a new Washington Post poll.

The public support for moving to five-day deliveries may bolster a new proposal to end six-day deliveries to help the mail agency trim hundreds of billions of dollars in losses by 2020.

Cutting Saturday mail deliveries would save $3.3 billion in its first year and about $5.1 billion a year by 2020, Postmaster General John Potter said Monday.

But the changes would also mean cutting the equivalent of 40,000 full- and part-time jobs through layoffs and attrition, Potter said as he prepared to formally submit his proposals to postal regulators today.

Under the plan:

n Letter carriers would stop delivering mail to American homes and businesses and would not pick up mail from blue collection boxes on Saturdays.

n Post offices would stay open on Saturdays, and mail would be delivered to post office boxes.

n Mail accepted at post offices on Saturday would be processed on Monday.

n Express mail and remittance mail services would continue seven days a week.

Potter’s proposal has the support of 71 percent of Americans, according to the poll.

But the revisions would mean big changes for how customers send and receive mail.

Residential and business addresses would not receive regular mail for three consecutive days on weekends that include a Monday federal holiday, such as Presidents Day. Federal, state and local agencies would have to shift the delivery of checks and other benefits to ensure they arrive before Saturday.

The increased use of direct deposit and debit cards should ease the potential negative impact, postal service officials said.

Other mailers — including magazine publishers and gift companies — might also have to alter delivery schedules to ensure timely deliveries.

If the changes are approved, Saturday delivery cuts probably would not occur before March 2011. The Postal Regulatory Commission must issue a nonbinding advisory opinion, a process that should take six months, Potter said.

Congress must also eliminate a rider in the annual appropriations bill that mandates six-day delivery, a process likely to conclude by the fall. The Postal Service would then wait six months before implementing the cuts, allowing time for customers to shift delivery schedules and for a new advertising campaign to explain the changes.

The Postal Service would also cut about 26,000 full-time positions through attrition and lay off 13,000 part-time employees, Potter said.

The attrition should come easily, since the average age of a letter carrier is 53 and about 10,000 carriers retire each year, Potter said. Most of the part-time workers carry the mail only one day per week as a substitute for a full-time carrier.

The Postal Service Board of Governors approved the cuts last week, ordering Potter to submit the proposals to the Postal Regulatory Commission today.

But Potter and others have said that the board of governors may soon have to consider other ways to save money, including closing thousands of post offices and raising stamp prices.

Closing post offices is much less popular than cutting Saturday service, according to the poll. Sixty-four percent of Americans opposed closing post offices, including their local branch, the poll shows.

Fifty-five percent of all respondents said they opposed raising stamp prices.

The Postal Service receives no taxpayer funding, earning revenue from the sale of postal products and services.

The poll was conducted by telephone March 23-26, among a random national sample of 1,000 adults, including users of both conventional and cell phones.