Starting next year, people waiting for their Social Security checks won't need to keep peering out the window for the carrier. The money won't be coming by mail.
The federal government is phasing out paper checks for all benefit programs, and it's about time. About 90 percent of recipients already get their money electronically. Now the rest will have to switch over too, getting their funds either via electronic deposit or on a rechargeable debit card by March 2013.
No longer sending out those 88 million pieces of mail will save taxpayers $120 million annually, without inconveniencing beneficiaries much at all, though the government should make sure a program is in place to help explain the changes for those who might be confused.
The move also has implications for another federal operation, the struggling U.S. Postal Service. While the discontinued checks represent a tiny fraction of the 177 billion pieces of mail the USPS delivers annually, they indicate the trend.
The amount of first-class mail peaked in 2001, declining more than 30 percent since. Yet Congress won't let the USPS cut service and locations to end losses approaching $12 billion a year.
Fewer and fewer bills are paid, or even received, by mail. Letters have given way to texts and emails. Now the federal government is turning its back on the mailbox. The USPS must evolve, and Congress needs to empower that change, rather than stand in the way.