LEWISTON — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, expressed frustration with the continued financial woes of the U.S. Postal Service during a committee hearing Thursday morning in Washington, D.C. 

The hearing featured testimony from an executive of NewPage

Collins said the Postal Service lost about $2.8 billion in 2008 and is projected to lose more than $7 billion this year, due to people mailing fewer items.

“The Postal Service is the linchpin of a $900 billion mailing industry that employs 9 million Americans in fields as diverse as direct mail, printing, catalog production, paper manufacturing and financial services,” Collins said during her opening statement at the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management hearing.

The federal agency is considering raising rates or decreasing delivery days. Companies such as NewPage Corp., the nation’s largest coated paper manufacturer, which operates a mill in Rumford,
may have to respond with layoffs, increased prices to consumers or reduced services, Collins said.

Mark Suwyn, executive chairman of NewPage, said the challenging economic climate had already forced his company to reduce capacity, reduce costs and focus on new products and services. He suggested the Postal Service do the same.

“There is a tendency to look at postal issues only from the standpoint of the Postal Service, but it is important to remember that the Postal Service is part of a large economic network,” he said at the hearing. “Industries that rely on the Postal Service for distribution employ roughly 8.3 million workers and represent 9 percent of the U.S. economy.”

Collins was particularly critical of a Postal Service proposal to review 677 of its 3,200 branches for potential closure.

“The Postal Service cannot expect to gain more business if it is reducing service,” Collins said, adding that if all the branches on the list were closed, it would save the Postal Service less than 1 percent of its overall operating costs. A representative of the Postal Service said if it did close some of the branches, no workers would be laid off. 

The Postal Service, Congress and the Obama administration must work together to find a lasting, fiscally responsible solution, Collins said.

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