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Postmaster says USPS may need emergency rate hike

WASHINGTON — Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said Thursday that his agency is in ‘‘the midst of a financial disaster’’ and may need an emergency increase in postage rates to keep operating.

‘‘The Postal Service as it exists today is financially unsustainable,’’ he told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. It’s a message he has been delivering over the past several months.

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Donahoe pressed lawmakers for swift action to fix his agency’s finances. Without help from Congress, the Postal Service expects its multibillion-dollar annual losses to worsen. He warned that cash liquidity is dangerously low.

The post office expects to lose $6 billion this year. Last year it lost $16 billion.

‘‘The Postal Service is quickly moving down a path that leads to becoming a massive, long-term burden to the American taxpayer,’’ he said.

Donahoe said a rate hike may be needed because his agency’s finances are so precarious and the prospects of quick congressional action are so uncertain. The Postal Service’s board of governors could decide as early as next week whether to request a special rate increase.The post office cannot raise its prices more than the rate of inflation unless it gets approval from the independent Postal Regulatory Commission.

Media and marketing firms that depend on postal services have said that a big rate hike could hurt their business.

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The agency last raised rates on Jan. 27. At the time, the cost of a first-class stamp went up by a penny, to 46 cents.

Lawmakers are considering cost-cutting moves that include ending Saturday mail delivery and door-to-door delivery. But many lawmakers, along with postal worker unions, have resisted such changes.

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