USPS Scrambles for Financial Assistance, Closes Two DC-Area Plants

Washington–The U.S. Postal Service will seek financial aid from Congress to offset anthrax-related expenses and a general slowdown in mail volume. The request for aid came as two Washington, DC-area facilities were shut as part of a contamination investigation.

Postmaster General John Potter told NBC’s “Today” show that while the USPS was not a business, he would be asking for relief as the airlines and insurance companies have after the devastating effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to reports. The amount of aid and the time frame in which the USPS may receive funding is unclear.

Congress is out of session until Tuesday while the Senate and House office buildings are inspected for anthrax contamination. The buildings were closed last Wednesday, after Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschale’s office received a letter containing anthrax.

The Postal Service has been affected on a number of fronts. Service disruptions caused by the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the alarm over anthrax spores being mailed and numerous false alarms have strained the financial resources of the service.

Even before Sept. 11, the post office had been facing a $1.65 billion deficit. While it is not allowed to make a profit, it is required to break even on its operations.

A Brentwood, MD processing and distribution facility and a postal center near Washington-Baltimore International airport have been closed since Sunday. Employees have been reassigned to other sites.

Two employees at the Brentwood site have contacted inhalation anthrax. At least one of those employees is seriously ill. Two more employees at the same facility have died of symptoms consistent with the disease, according to news reports. All 2,000 employees at the Brentwood location and 150 at the postal center are undergoing testing and are being given preventive antibiotic regimens.

Preliminary contamination tests at the two facilities have been negative.

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