The U.S. Postal Service is facing financial difficulties as more and more Americans use the Internet to send messages and pay bills. Top officials from the postal service are now asking Congress for permission to stop Saturday delivery as part of efforts to cut billions of dollars in losses. It would be a sharp departure for a service that has been devoted to getting the mail through to cities and rural areas all across the country... six days a week.
Delvin Johnson is one of 600,000 postal employees.
Ten years ago, he was one of 800,000. The cut in staff comes as the volume of mail in the United States is declining.
Faced with expected losses of $7 billion in 2010, the Postal Service says Saturday delivery should be dropped altogether. But Johnson thinks it's misguided. "It would be a terrible, terrible mistake, a terrible cost to the country because once you get used to something, people expect it, even though some people say we will be all right, some other people say they will miss the service," he said.
Out on his route on a rainy Saturday morning, Washington residents greeted Johnson by his first name.
Tyra Goodman, from Australia, likes the human contact. "I have to say when we first moved into the neighborhood, Delvin was our daily visitor and the kids looked forward to him coming and he was the first person whose name we knew in a new country, the first American we met really," she said.
Goodman says she would miss Saturday delivery. "It is always nice to get a little package on a Saturday but if it means not paying people properly or having to cut down, I will understand," he said.
The postal service is more than 200-years-old. It has prided itself on getting the mail through to every corner of the United States. The letter carrier has held a hallowed place in American culture.
The Postal Service also wants to shut down some post offices and cut back on funding health care for retired mail carriers.
Some lawmakers say stopping Saturday delivery could mark the beginning of the end of traditional mail.
The union that represents letter carriers is opposing that change, which Congress has to approve.
Deputy Postmaster General Pat Donohoe tells VOA the changes would help. "If we are able to do a few of the things that we are promoting around the ability to take costs out of our system, I think we can be very, very vibrant, and very relevant going forward," he said.
Johnson has been a letter carrier for 30 years. He's nostalgic about an earlier era. "What I would like for the country and everybody to know is that with the age of the computer, it takes time for us to try to keep up with the computer but if some people would start writing again, and sending their bills by mail, maybe it could ease a little of the burden as far as the financial difficulties that we are in," he said.
He says the mail carrier remains an important figure in American communities.
But polls show Americans would prefer fewer days of mail delivery to higher prices for mailing letters and packages.
And so, "neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night" stops these mail carriers, according to the motto. But financial losses could get in their way.