US & Canada

US Postal Service in $16bn loss

The entrance of a United States Post Office is seen in Manhasset, New York 1 August 2012
Image caption The US Postal Service has seen declining mail volume but increases in shipping services

The US Postal Service has reported an annual loss of a $15.9bn (£10bn), ending a year in which it defaulted on payments twice to avert bankruptcy.

Its financial losses were more than triple the previous year's.

Most of the mail agency's financial woes come from mounting mandatory costs for future retiree health benefits.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the Postal Service's hands are tied by congressional inaction on a bill that would allow it to reduce the payments.

"It's critical that Congress do its part and pass comprehensive legislation before they adjourn this year to move the Postal Service further down the path toward financial health," Mr Donahoe said, calling the situation "our own postal fiscal cliff".

One version of the bill would cut down on the required $5bn annual health-benefit payment and allow it to eliminate Saturday mail delivery.

Earlier in 2012, the Postal Service defaulted for the first time in its history on two of the health payments.

The Senate passed a postal bill in April that would have reduced the mandatory advances and refunded overpayments to a federal pension fund.

But legislation proposing an end to Saturday delivery has stalled in the House of Representatives.

The mail agency has seen other structural problems in declining mail volume, but has seen growth in it shipping services, up 9% in 2012.

Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, blamed Congress for mandating the annual health pre-payments in 2006, but suggested lawmakers should wait to act on legislation until next year.

His union is opposed to the current version of the House bill, which gives the Postal Service wide leeway to close post office branches and make employee cuts to balance its budget.