The Senate offered a lifeline to the nearly bankrupt U.S. Postal Service on Wednesday, voting to give the struggling agency an $11 billion cash infusion while delaying controversial decisions on closing post offices and ending Saturday delivery.
By a 62-37 vote, senators approved a measure that had divided mostly along rural-urban lines. Over the past several weeks, the bill was modified more than a dozen times, adding new restrictions on closings and cuts to service that rural-state senators said would hurt their communities the most.
The issue now goes to the House, which has yet to consider a separate version of the bill.
"The Postal Service is an iconic American institution that still delivers 500 million pieces of mail a day and sustains 8 million jobs," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., a bill co-sponsor. "This legislation will change the USPS so it can stay alive throughout the 21st century."
The Senate bill would halt the immediate closing of up to 252 mail-processing centers and 3,700 post offices, part of a postal cost-cutting plan to save some $6.5 billion a year. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe previously said he would begin making cuts after May 15 if Congress didn't act, warning that the agency could run out of money this fall.
The measure would save about half the mail-processing centers that the Postal Service wants to close, from 252 to 125, allowing more areas to maintain overnight first-class-mail delivery for at least three more years. It also would bar any shutdowns before the November elections, protect rural post offices for at least a year, give affected communities new avenues to appeal closing decisions and forbid cuts to Saturday delivery for two years.
At the same time, the Postal Service would get an infusion of roughly $11 billion, basically a refund of overpayments made in previous years to a federal retirement fund. That would give it immediate liquidity to pay down debt to forestall bankruptcy and finance buyouts to 100,000 postal employees.
The Postal Service, an independent agency of government, does not receive taxpayer money for its operations but is subject to congressional control.