An Invitation from the Postal Service
By Edward Shanahan
One of the reasons it’s tempting to write about the passing scene is that so much of everyday life comes under the heading of “I don’t believe it.”
For example, within the last month of I have received no less than two invitations from the U.S. Postal Service to apply for a Post Office box, even though we have had a box since 1990. That’s hard to believe.
Well, actually it’s not an invitation, because what the Post Office wants is updated personal information to verify where I live physically on a permanent basis. To satisfy the Post Office of my true status, I need to submit two forms of identification: a valid driver’s license, or vehicle insurance policy, a passport or a copy of current lease or mortgage, a voter registration card or a military, university or government identification card.
What about a Social Security card, the principal means of personal identification that is accepted and valid throughout the country as the best form of identify verification” No good, at least for the Post Office. That, too, is unbelievable. Further, the identification offered must be current. Sternly, the Post Office warns: “It must contain sufficient information to confirm that the applicant is who he or she claims to be and must be traceable to the bearer.”
Wow, this sounds like serious stuff when all we are talking about is a mail box. I’m not applying for the position at the CIA or FBI or to be named ambassador to Venezuela.
And what if I don’t yield up this information? Well, maybe the Postal Service will take away my current PO box, as if it is a prized possession or rare status symbol.
In fact, there is something a little odd about paying $59 a year for a Post Office box so I can drive or walk to the post office and deliver my mail to myself. I’m saving the Post Office time and money, not to mention gasoline, by doing their work, yet paying it for the privilege.
So after discussing these several points with Annie and Donna at the Florence substation, I got in touch with Lauryn B. Levesque, the postmaster. She is based in the Easthampton branch from which she manages the Florence office, an anomalous situation, it would seem, when we have a full-fledged Post Office right in downtown Northampton. This, too, has always seemed a little unbelievable.
According to Levesque, the heightened security measures for the Post Office are a consequence of the renewed concern in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and rules embedded in legislation known as the Patriot Act.
The Florence post office should have been updating personal informationabout box holders on a regular basis, according to Levesque. “It was a huge loophole,” she said. It was only when an audit was done in recent months, that it was determined the Florence office had been lax in its procedures. “They should have been doing that every year, but we won’t get into that.”
In the course of our conversation, Levesque, who has been the postmaster for almost three years, implied that there had been other deficiencies at the Florence office, which she has tried to address. Among those were the need to get the mail delivered by truck to the Florence from Springfield by way of Easthampton sooner each day. She has also taken steps to extend hours daily and on weekends so that box holders can gain access to the post office lobby and to their mail boxes.
She has also authorized the installation of parcel lockers in the lobby so customers don’t have to wait in line at the counter to retrieve packages too large for their boxes. Although long periods of waiting in line is still a major feature of the Florence postal experience.
The postmaster acknowledged that she had heard from others who were surprised by their need to apply or rather reapply for their mail boxes.
Yet, she defused me fairly easily by her willingness to listen and her apparent recognition that the Postal Service sometimes behaves in confusing, even unbelievable, ways.
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