WASHINGTON – The cash-strapped post office will receive a $175 million infusion of federal money to help it contend with the anthrax and terrorist attacks.
President Bush said Tuesday he has authorized immediate spending of the money on improved safety at postal facilities.
Postmaster General John Potter and Tom Ridge, homeland security director, have been meeting daily to discuss the anthrax attacks.
The agency had estimated its costs at $63 million from the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, and the subsequent anthrax attacks have been adding substantially to that.
Two postal workers have died from anthrax, and others are hospitalized. As a result, some postal facilities have been closed, mail has been rerouted, and medical tests and antibiotics have been offered to thousands of post office employees.
The U.S. Postal Service is part of the government but receives no tax money for operations. It is required to pay its own way through postage and other mail charges.
The agency is shopping for equipment that can block germs in the mail, probably similar to machinery used by the food industry, and protective clothing and other equipment to protect postal workers.
The first delivery of decontamination machines to the Postal Service is expected as early as Nov. 1, Potter said Wednesday on NBC's Today.
Even before the Sept. 11 attacks, the agency was looking at a potential loss of $1.6 billion this year and has requested permission to raise rates to compensate. Mail volume has fallen since the attacks, which is causing further declines in income. The post office also is near its borrowing limit, a senior postal official said.
Meanwhile, millions of postcards are to arrive in mailboxes this week as the Postal Service seeks to heighten public awareness and soothe fears about anthrax-tainted mail.
Postal officials hope the postcards will help answer some of the frazzled public's questions: What signs should I look for? What should I do with a suspicious letter?
"We are engaging the American public, we want all of America to help us," Postmaster General Potter said. "It's important that everybody who sees something suspicious lets us know."
He said the agency will not curtail mail deliveries.
"We're not going to be defeated. We have delivered some 20 billion (pieces of mail) since Sept. 11," he said.
Postal employees who work in the Washington facility where some co-workers became ill are being tested, and, as a precaution, postal workers in facilities across the city were being given antibiotics. Some 3,400 had been provided the medication by Tuesday.
Engineering and purchasing officials from the agency were deployed across the country to check on types of equipment available. They were looking for machines that can be put into use quickly but which will be effective and safe for mail workers.