A U.S. Postal Service proposal to eliminate Saturday mail delivery could save an estimated $3 billion annually but would put people such as Maui resident Steve Hornbuckle at risk of missing critical mail service.
Hornbuckle is HIV positive and a diabetic. He depends on mail delivery of 11 different types of medications from the mainland to arrive on time to his out-of-the-way home in Maui’s Waihee Valley.
"Sometimes the deliveries come right down to the wire," Hornbuckle said. "By losing another day, that definitely impacts me."
The Postal Service has proposed reducing mail deliveries to Monday through Friday only, although the exact cost savings vary.
U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka had joined Alaska’s senators in asking for hearings on the effects of eliminating Saturday mail deliveries to their states, but were rebuffed on Wednesday.
Ruth Y. Goldway, chairwoman of the Postal Regulatory Commission, wrote in a letter to Akaka that the commission already has held seven public hearings on the mainland that elicited about 7,000 comments — and would not schedule hearings for Hawaii and Alaska.
"I appreciate your sharing the unique concerns of your constituents given the unique attributes and geography of the state of Hawaii," Goldway wrote to Akaka.
She offered no explanation for not scheduling hearings for Hawaii.
Inouye and Akaka said residents in rural Hawaii communities, in particular, rely on six-day-a-week postal service for critical items such as medicine, food and even water.
"There are certain areas where dependable postal service is important," Inouye said in an interview. "Once you begin the process of cutting this and cutting that, it only becomes easier next time. I want to see all people — whether rich or poor or living far or close by — given equal opportunities."
In a follow-up statement, Inouye said "Our state is situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and outside of the Postal Service our residents have limited options for the timely delivery of essential items. … I recognize that the Postal Service was not immune to the global recession and is struggling with billions in losses, declining mail volume and the prospect of being unable to make payroll at the end of the year. … My hope is that we can reach an agreement that accommodates the Postal Service’s current financial situation and the delivery needs of Hawaii’s working families."
Inouye encouraged Hawaii residents to make their opinions known to the Postal Regulatory Commission by visiting www.prc.gov.
Duke Gonzales, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in Honolulu, said the Postal Service is "faced with making a difficult decision."
Once the commission decides on whether to cancel Saturday deliveries, Gonzales said, "We will move forward and make the best of the situation we’re faced with at that time. Putting customers first has long been our philosophy. Whatever we do, we will keep in mind providing the best possible service to our customers, whatever frequency that would amount to."
Hornbuckle already has been notified by his pharmaceutical provider that it would continue to send him medications through a private delivery service, which Hornbuckle believes would only erode the Postal Service’s revenue and send more business to its competitors.
"The postmaster general thinks he’s going to save a bunch of money by not having Saturday delivery," Hornbuckle said. "It’s real short-sighted."
Other customers, such as part-time Big Island resident Mike Last, have dealt with rural mail delivery by setting up a post office box in Naalehu, 14 miles away from his home.
"Since I must go so far to pick up mail, I only do it once per week, on average," Last wrote in an e-mail. "Eliminating Saturday delivery will not impact me at all."
But eliminating even one day of deliveries could cost Oahu record producer Flip McDiarmid both time and delivery expenses.
McDiarmid, president of Hula Records, has accounts with UPS, FedEx and the Postal Service. He frequently finds that the best bargain lies with the Postal Service’s flat-rate boxes.
He also relies on the Postal Service to deliver checks and business contracts on Saturdays.
"It’s critical," McDiarmid said. "We have contracts sent to us that need to be signed last second. Even though we get them submitted by e-mail, we still need those hard copies, even on Saturdays."
With "thousands and thousands" of shipments and deliveries, McDiarmid said eliminating even one day of mail service will increase his business costs.
"These days, everybody has to be aware of shipping charges," he said, "because otherwise it’s pure profit that you’re throwing away."