Saturday mail delivery appeared on budget director David Stockman's budget-cutting hit list. He said that Saturday mail has no place in "hard times ," meaning now. He could hardly be more mistaken! Stoppage of Saturday mail would probably be more damaging to the economy now than it would have been on almost any previous occasion -- and no year in the past decade or more has gone by in which stoppage of Saturday delivery has not been advocated by someone as big money saver for taxpayers -- which it would not be.
Stoppage of Saturday mail delivery on top of the already sluggish delivery of virtually all mail, particularly intercity, would substantially increase the "float" on checks delivered by mail, and thereby bestow on the issuers of the checks additional windfalls. These windfalls would be at the expense of the payees of the checks, who already suffer substantial losses in consequence of what appear to be ever-increasing delays in deliveries of almost all mail and increases in the misdeliveries of a rising share of it.
Checks delivered by mail cover almost every conceivable type of payment, including interest and dividends, salaries and wages, social security benefits, unemployment compensation, and other types of payments commonly made by the federal, state, and local governments. Recipients of mail-delivered checks therefore constitute a large percentage of the country's total tax-paying population.
A great deal of first-class mail delivered in most areas arrives so late in the day on many, if not most, days in the week that any checks contained in it cannot be cashed or deposited for credit in a bank or other savings institution before the following business day, which would ordinarily be one to three days later. If Saturday delivery should be deleted, an even higher proportion than at present of the deliveries made on Mondays would arrive too late to be cashed or deposited for credit before the next business day (one to two days later ordinarily). At present, anyone who receives a check by mail on Saturday can be certain that he will not be prevented from cashing or depositing it for credit later than the following business day.
Checks totaling billions of dollars are mailed every year. On the basis of prime interest rates currently charged by most commercial banks, every day's delay in the presentation of checks to be cashed or deposited for credit enriches the major beneficiaries of such delays by about $500,000 for every billion dollars involved. The principal beneficiaries of these windfalls at present are the banks, stock brokerage firms, insurance companies, local and state governments, and the federal government.
With the increasing use of NOW accounts (interest-paying checking accounts) individuals also benefit (but only modestly) from delays in the cashing or depositing of checks they issue, and they are also tending to deposit checks they receive more promptly than they did before changing to NOW accounts. Any net benefit to these individuals, however, would be far exceeded by the corresponding net benefits to the major check-disbursing institutions, private and government. This does not correspond to the "even-handed" standard President Reagan mentioned in his Feb. 18 address to Congress.
Postmaster William Bolger less than a year ago likewise advocated elimination of Saturday delivery to save the government an estimated $250 million to $300 million in the first year and twice this amount in the following years. However , despite the scheduled reduction in the government's subsidy to the Postal Service, Bolger now says that he has no plan to eliminate Saturday mail delivery or any other services. He states that instead he will absorb the cut through improved productivity. To learn why termination of Saturday delivery would not be in the best interest of the country, particularly at the present time, perhaps budget director Stockman shoudl have a chat with postmaster Bolger.
The substantial increases in postage rates that went into effect on March 22, and the possibility of higher wages and benefits to postal workers in the forthcoming labor negotiations in the spring, would make elimination of Saturday delivery even more highly objectionable to a public already testy about its mail service. Elimination of Saturday delivery would also result in a significant reduction in employment by the Postal Service at a time when opportunities for alternative employment for discharged employees would likely be minimal.
The reduction in employment that would result from stoppage of Saturday delivery, however, would not be quite a large as advocates of the stoppage believe. The Postal Service now handles about 106 billion pieces of mail a year , but the annual volume would not be appreciably reduced if Saturday delivery were deleted. Consequently the staff that currently handles the deliveries on Mondays (and on the following Tuesdays when the Mondays are holidays) would have to be increased somewhat to avoid undue delays in delivery of "Saturday's mail."
If the burden of supporting the federal government and cutting its budget is to be borne equitably by all taxpayers, there is no valid reason for stopping Saturday mail delivery. If the delivery were stopped, most individuals who receive checks by mail would lose. Large institutions that mail many checks would benefit -- many very appreciably. Can such a balance on the scales of equity have a place in a plan for national econo mic recovery?