With a $5.5 billion payment due Sept. 30, the US Postal Service's longstanding financial woes are about to come to a head—in fact, if Congress doesn't do something soon, the agency might have to shut down entirely this winter, reports the New York Times. The USPS handles about 3 billion pieces of mail a week, but that's down 22% over the past five years. Added to declining usage, Postal Service costs are up, with strong benefits and no-layoff provisions in union contracts causing labor to account for 80% of USPS costs—as opposed to 53% at UPS and 32% at FedEx.
The agency is supposed to address Congress tomorrow to discuss options, such as repealing the no-layoff rule or ending Saturday deliveries. While the USPS hopes to cut $20 billion of the agency's $75 billion budget by 2015, observers say finding additional revenue is key. Among the suggestions, delivering wine and beer, adding advertising to trucks or in offices, and subcontracting deliveries for UPS and FedEx. “This is about one of America’s oldest institutions," says the letter carrier union president. “It survived the telegraph, it survived the telephone, and we have to do everything we can to preserve it and adapt.” (Read more US Postal Service stories.)