Neither snow, nor rain nor gloom of night has taken on a different meaning at the U.S. Postal Service with plans to launch a new product line of apparel and accessories under the brand name, “Rain Heat & Snow.”
The Postal Service’s unofficial motto, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” serves as a backdrop for a licensing agreement the organization has signed with Cleveland-based fashion apparel company Wahconah Group, Inc. The agreement leverages Postal Service intellectual property by introducing the Rain Heat & Snow brand of apparel and accessory products.
“This agreement will put the Postal Service on the cutting edge of functional fashion,” said Postal Service Corporate Licensing Manager Steven Mills. “The main focus will be to produce Rain Heat & Snow apparel and accessories using technology to create ‘smart apparel’ — also known as wearable electronics.”
It’s undoubted that many wingnuts will try to make this about Obama, but the reality is that they are the ones calling for cuts in everything and the US Post Office has been headed this way for two decades. The Internet helped to hasten this.
The U.S. Postal Service plans to stop delivering letters and other first-class mail on Saturdays beginning Aug. 1, although packages will continue to be delivered.
It will mark the an end of an era for the agency, which started Saturday delivery in 1863.
Tired of waiting for Congress to help, the Postal Service later Wednesday is expected to unveil a series of more drastic cuts they plan to pursue that will save them billions of dollars, a spokesperson for the service confirmed.
It’s unclear at the moment whether the Postal Service has the authority to quit delivering letters on Saturdays. Previously, it has said it needs Congress to change current law to do so.
The “Dear Santa” letters piled high in the back offices of New York’s main post office are just as cute and misspelled as ever, but their scribbles and drawings tell heart-wrenching stories of children dealing with the hardships of unemployed parents and the ravages of Superstorm Sandy.
“I know you must be very busy helping a lot of people who has been misplaced by Hurricane Sandy,” Paige writes after asking after “Santa and Mrs. Santa’s” health. “My mother and I and my little brother had to leave our house in Queens. We are now staying with my aunt in New York City. We still don’t have electricity. My mother is moving to South Carolina.”
She asks Santa for a computer for herself and a Transformer for her brother.
“We wish you luck and a Merry Christmas,” she wrote. “Please help us and all the families that was hurt by Hurricane Sandy.”
As the U.S. Postal Service begins the 100th year of the “Operation Santa” letters program to connect the wishes of needy children with anonymous donors willing to play secret Santa, Pete Fontana, chief of Elf Operations, is so distressed he’s stopped reading the letters.
While much focus around Congress’ return has been around the “fiscal cliff” and Benghazi, Congress faces a whole host of unfinished business.
The farm bill, which sets agriculture policy and funds the food stamp program, expired Sept. 30. Its expiration hit farmers immediately, especially dairy farmers who have not received their supplemental payments. If Congress doesn’t act by January 1, the cost of milk is expected to skyrocket and dairy farmers would have to comply with decades-old regulations that don’t conform to the modern industry. As for crop farmers, they have been in limbo, unsure of what sort of subsidies and priorities Congress will set for next year. The Senate passed a bill but the House has not. Analysts say a one-year extension is possible during the lame duck session but a full-fledged five-year reauthorization is unlikely.
The U.S. Postal Service is another area in need of Congress’ attention. The broke quasi-government agency is not government funded but lacks autonomy to make much needed changes in service and pension payments as it’s constrained by the heavy hand of Congress. The service has been unable to meet $1.1 billion in payments for future retirees’ pensions and is asking Congress to act. The Senate passed a bill but the House has yet to act over wrangling over the high cost of the food stamp program.
Congress also faces deadlines to extend the post-9/11 surveillance bill, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, funding for the intelligence community and a bill to authorize defense spending and programs.
The U.S. Postal Service is bracing for a first-ever default on billions in payments due to the Treasury, adding to widening uncertainty about the mail agency’s solvency as first-class letters plummet and Congress deadlocks on ways to stem the red ink.
With cash running perilously low, two legally required payments for future postal retirees’ health benefits - $5.5 billion due Wednesday, and another $5.6 billion due in September - will be left unpaid, the mail agency said Monday. Postal officials said they also are studying whether they may need to delay other obligations. In the coming months, a $1.5 billion payment is due to the Labor Department for workers compensation, which for now it expects to make, as well as millions in interest payments to the Treasury.
The defaults won’t stir any kind of catastrophe in day-to-day mail service. Post offices will stay open, mail trucks will run, employees will get paid, current retirees will get health benefits.
But a growing chorus of analysts, labor unions and business customers are troubled by continuing losses that point to deeper, longer-term financial damage, as the mail agency finds it increasingly preoccupied with staving off immediate bankruptcy while Congress delays on a postal overhaul bill.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has described a “crisis of confidence” amid the mounting red ink that could lead even once-loyal customers to abandon use of the mail.
As the U.S. Postal Service limps along, bleeding billions of dollars every financial quarter, congressional leaders are looking to a group of outspoken rural lawmakers for help with a dramatic restructuring of the agency.
Rural Americans say they regard their local post offices as the centers of their communities. With UPS and FedEx service limited or more expensive in some areas, many rely on the Postal Service to deliver medicines, while families need it to pay bills and small businesses and craftsmen use it to ship goods to customers.
The lawmakers representing these communities have fought bitterly against plans to close more than 3,600 post offices, end Saturday delivery and scale back overnight delivery - moves that have been proposed to get the Postal Service on better financial footing.
Now Republican backers of a controversial bill to overhaul the Postal Service by creating oversight groups to close facilities and cut costs are courting rural lawmakers in hopes of getting a proposal voted on in the U.S. House of Representatives this summer.
The timing is tricky. Members of Congress want legislation to help the service avoid default on two payments totaling $11.1 billion to the federal government before the November 6 presidential and congressional elections, which could quiet talk that a taxpayer bailout of the USPS could be needed.
But lawmakers in tough races, particularly in rural areas, do not want to have to defend voting for legislation that could lead to the closure of post offices in their districts.
“One of the worst things a member of Congress has to endure is an onslaught of protest from people who don’t want their postal facility to close,” said Representative Dennis Ross, a Republican who co-sponsored the bill with Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa.
The U.S. Postal Service said it is abandoning for now its plan to close thousands of post offices in rural locations and will instead keep them operating with shorter opening hours.
The cash-strapped agency faced significant backlash from Congress and communities last summer when it began considering about 3,600 post offices for closure this year.
Instead, now 13,000 post offices with low traffic will shorten their operations to between two and six hours a day.
“We’ve listened to our customers in rural America and we’ve heard them loud and clear - they want to keep their post offices open,” said Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe. “There’s no plan for closings at this point.”
Utility bills are paid, legal briefs are filed and the Christmas shopping all gets done online. But for magazines, clothing catalogues and movies, the mail still matters.
For some mail-dependent businesses, quick and cheap first-class mail service from the U.S. Postal Service is still the best way to reach prospective customers and subscribers. And for many, it’s still an important way to get paid.
The Postal Service, which has been losing money for five years, said Monday that it is shuttering more than 200 mail processing centers, adding at least a day’s wait for many first-class deliveries. The news was met with concern and frustration from some businesses — and shrugs from others that long ago stopped relying on the post office.
“It’s less of a disaster than it would have been 10 years ago, but it’ll be a cash flow crunch for some companies,” said Todd McCracken, president and chief executive of the National Small Business Association. “It’ll be longer to get your invoice, and longer to get a check back.”
First-class mail is supposed to arrive at U.S. homes and businesses in one to three days; about 42 percent of it arrives in one day. The cutbacks will back up deliveries to two to three days; periodicals could take up to nine days.
Cookie Driscoll of Fairfield, Pa., designs and sells decorative animal stickers to gift shops. She uses the Postal Service for almost all deliveries because prices are low and predictable, and delivery is fast. She also receives most of her income by paper checks through the mail.
“The trickle-down effect of this is going to be frustrating,” she said. “It’s not going to put me out of business but it’s an irritant. Every time small businesses turn around we get hit with something else.”
The change could represent an operational headache for L.L. Bean, which mails 250 million catalogues a year to sell outdoor clothing and equipment. Now the company knows the day its catalogues will arrive in homes, and it can put on extra staff at call centers on the appointed day. It won’t be able to do that anymore.