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Ian Lind • Online daily from Kaaawa, Hawaii

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An example of post office woes in rural areas

January 14th, 2014 · 9 Comments

Public Utilities Commission Chair and former State Representative Mina Morita recently took to Facebook to complain about the runaround she recently experienced at the Hanalei post office. Her experience probably sounds familiar to anyone served by a small rural post office, where hours have been cut back dramatically.

Morita said she was trying to comply with the annual post office “address verification,” but has a problem because she works in Honolulu at the PUC during the week, and can only get to the post office in person on Saturdays.

If you live in an area without home delivery, your post office box is free as long as you can verify your residence. Otherwise, you pay a commercial fee.

Here’s her tale, a bit shortened.

Round 1. “I went in with my two ID’s, driver’s license and my state of Hawaii work ID badge. I noted that the form did not say specifically what kind of ID is required. The guy wouldn’t take it and said I needed a utility bill. Told him all the utility bills are in my husband’s name. The guy says I needed a bill that showed my street address.”

• Round 2. “My daughter goes in on Monday with a copy of my driver’s license, my tax assessment and my homeowner’s insurance policy invoice – they won’t take it because it has to be a utility bill and if the bill is not in my name they need a note from my husband.”

• Round 3. Morita returns to Kauai to find a notice that her mail service has been “suspended” until the address verification is complete.

• Round 4. “I go in and I tell them my daughter brought all the info in back in December, you all told her I couldn’t use my tax assessment or home insurance invoice and wouldn’t take it. Then they tell me oh no we accept those but you have to bring it in person!”

• Round 5. Morita has to now pay a post office fee and a late penalty because she doesn’t have time to go home and get the required documentation of residency again because she can’t get there and back before the post office closes (it’s only open for two hours on Saturdays).

• Round 6. She is forced to file a written complaint to get a refund of her payments.

With the shortened hours at our small post offices, including the one here in Kaaawa, no one who has a job can get to the post office during the week if they need service, and the shortened Saturday hours can make it very difficult to pick up packages or anything else that is held for pickup.

We’ve had important mail returned to the sender when we had to be in town on Saturday morning and couldn’t get back to the post office during business hours until the following Saturday. Too late, we sent it back already.

Rigid rules make it impossible for good USPS staff to give the personal service in small communities that used to be the norm. Now if you receive a letter that isn’t addressed exactly right, it risks being returned even though the post office employees know who you are and will tell you it had been sent back. That never used to happen.

Hopefully Morita’s complaint can help document the problems we face with mail delivery service in so many areas of the state.

Tags: Consumer issues

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ono // Jan 14, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    It must be frustrating to deal with reduced hours and staff in this time of cutbacks, and to deal with new rigid rules that go against common sense, as you have experienced, Ian.

    But what Morita has encountered in Hanalei seems a bit different. The post office staff out there seem confused by their own rules. The problem out there might be, to put it uncharitably, provincial “brain-drain”. Bright kids go off to college to Honolulu and to the mainland, and those who remain are a bit … confused.

    As the cost of living continues to rise in our Aloha state, you might expect more of this. I’ve noticed that this process has been accelerating since 2008.

    http://www.civilbeat.com/articles/2013/12/09/20630-big-island-state-reps-resignation-prompts-political-eulogy/

  • 2 Ian Lind // Jan 14, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    I’ve been given the same “utility bill required” line here in Kaaawa, so it seems at least that part of the confusion isn’t limited to Hanalei.

  • 3 Hugh Clark // Jan 14, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Heck no, it is not just a Kauai-limited issue.Hilo has fallen on hard times with reduced hours and less staffing, longer lines and sometimes hostile workers who appear to have been trained by TSA fools.

    When I covered Congressional hearings I learned Hilo then was one of a few post office operations in our state generating more income than others in Hawaii.

    Yet we have opening at 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays for a 90-minute session and holiday-style long lines. As a box holder of 47 years, I find this service intolerable.

    Today I received my AARP credit card statement today with a 01-16-14 due date.

    If Hanabusa wants to generate any support from us N Isle folks she might respond to my concern about this issue, But she chose to ignore it because of my zip code.

  • 4 Mr. Mike in Hilo // Jan 14, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    It all too common for staff members of an office to have different versions of the rules for any given procedure. But could Ms. Morita have gone to the USPS’s website to verify the requirements for “address verification”? If not, why not?

    I do wonder if the USPS could contract with small stores and gas stations in rural communities to provide at least some of the services of a post office well into the evening hours. It would be simple enough for businesses like that at least to sell stamps, offer package pickup, and to provide some space for mail boxes. In fact, a USPS contract might provide an incentive for some businesses to extend their hours into the evening.

    (Near us, in the outskirts of Hilo, a new subdivision of 36 one-acre lots, on a road which will become a city street, will not have individual mail boxes on each lot. Instead, there will a cluster of mail boxes, a big metal contraption, at one location for all 36 homeowners.)

  • 5 R Ferdun // Jan 14, 2014 at 8:51 pm

    As I understand it those community mail boxes are the wave of the future. The USPS will be requiring them more and more going forward.

  • 6 wlsc // Jan 15, 2014 at 8:56 am

    No use citing the USPS website – I did so once & the clerk told me that they’re “not responsible” for what’s at USPS.com.

  • 7 John Bruce // Jan 16, 2014 at 11:57 am

    Hanabusa is Oahu centric and an elitist. She does not deserve to be elected Senator.
    The Post Office cutbacks are related to the anti-union law passed several years ago that puts the USPS in a choke hold. Because it is mostly a rural issue most Americans have no clue what is really happening.Senator Bernie Sanders has been trying to rectify the situation for several years and needs assistance from other legislators. It is actually an important issue.

  • 8 compare and decide // Jan 30, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Amazon is raising the price of Amazon Prime by $20 to $40 because of the cost of fuel.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/01/30/amazon-raise-prime-price/5063693/

    Now, I am surprised because the cost of crude oil has actually fallen from $105 to $95 in the past year.

    So what does this mean for postal rates in the future?

    Incidentally, the Congressional delegations from Hawaii and Alaska have asked the federal government to wave certain fees amounting to about $5 to $10 on the grounds that Hawaii and Alaska are especially dependent on air travel.

    It seems like such a small fee, how could it be so consequential? Shouldn’t Hawaii and Alaska pay their fair share, as one would expect that they in particular benefit from all the federal largess heaped onto aviation?

    Also, the job of the federal government is to provide certain basic services, especially for those who have limited choices. So, for better or worse, the Tennessee Valley Authority created a vast energy infrastructure which did benefit poor Southerners who really did not choose to be born or raised in the rural South, and had no options for moving out.

    But living in places like Alaska and Hawaii today is almost completely a lifestyle choice.

    In fact, one out of five Hawaii residents who are traveling are going to or coming from Las Vegas; simply visiting Las Vegas, excluding the cost of gambling, averages roughly over several thousand dollars per trip; a surprising number of people from Hawaii go to Las Vegas as many as six times a year; and so many people from Hawaii who do travel (frequently) to Las Vegas are from the working class.

    So the standard of living in Hawaii is not exactly like of Afghanistan. Almost everybody in Hawaii has some disposable income, which they readily spend on entertainment. And travel (and gambling) is a big part of this entertainment.

    In any case, prices for shipping and air travel are going up, and Hawaii’s Congressional delegation cannot do anything about that.

  • 9 compare and decide // Feb 2, 2014 at 2:21 am

    Speaking of oil….

    Check out the first graph in this wiki, which is of the price of oil since 1861.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price_of_petroleum

    Historically, the price of oil in the 20th century is around $25/barrel (depending on where the graph begins or ends).

    In the 1970s, the price went up after war with Israel in 1973 and with the Iranian Revolution in 1978.

    Interestingly, the price of oil has continued to rise since 2010 with no significant crisis to oil producing countries in the Middle East (and oil production has become global, as well).

    The following is from the wiki on ‘predicting the timing of peak oil’.

    In 1956, M. King Hubbert created and first used the models behind peak oil to predict that United States oil production would peak between 1965 and 1971.

    That turned out to be a correct forecast.

    In 1974, M. King Hubbert predicted that world peak oil would occur in 1995 “if current trends continue.”[7] However, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, global oil consumption actually dropped (due to the shift to energy-efficient cars,[8] the shift to electricity and natural gas for heating,[9] and other factors), then rebounded with a lower rate of growth in the mid 1980s. Thus oil production did not peak in 1995, and has climbed to more than double the rate initially projected.

    There are oil optimists, and they can be convincing.

    No peak oil

    The view that oil extraction will never enter a depletion phase is often referred to as “cornucopian” in ecology and sustainability literature.

    Abdullah S. Jum’ah, President, Director and CEO of Saudi Aramco states that the world has adequate reserves of conventional and nonconventional oil sources that will last for more than a century.[44][45] As recently as 2008 he pronounced “We have grossly underestimated mankind’s ability to find new reserves of petroleum, as well as our capacity to raise recovery rates and tap fields once thought inaccessible or impossible to produce.” Jum’ah believes that in-place conventional and non-conventional liquid resources may ultimately total between 13 trillion and 16 trillion barrels (2,500 km3) and that only a small fraction (1.1 trillion) has been extracted to date.

    Perhaps a middle ground can be found. Oil production is continuing to expand, and this may prove to be indefinite. But cheap oil has come to an end. Gone are the days of a lone James Dean striking a gusher in Texas.

    The new technology available to find new oil sources and extract it is viable precisely because oil has become so expensive — maybe three, four or five times the historical norm.

    Nicol-André Berdellé adjusted world oil production by deducting the energy equivalent of investments, and concluded that a more than doubling of investment in oil exploration and development between 2005 and 2010, masked a decline in net oil production. He argued that in net energy terms, peak oil has already taken place.

    This is a disturbing graph.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Timing_of_peak_oil.jpg

    This seems to means that when one considers how expensive it has become since 2005 to produce oil, we are in a kind of virtual post-peak oil world, where it takes more and more energy inputs to produce energy.

    Interestingly, that mirrors an earlier assertion.

    In 2001, Kenneth S. Deffeyes, professor emeritus of geology at Princeton University, used Hubbert’s theory to predict that world oil production would peak in 2005.[10] As of late 2009, Deffeyes was still convinced that 2005 had been the peak, and wrote: “I think it unlikely that oil production will ever climb back to the 2005 levels.”

    What seemed like a scientist in denial might be someday seen as a wise and accurate prophet.

    So it’s a bit like the traditional British shout announcing the death of a monarch and his succession by a new ruler: “The King is dead! Long live the King!”

    Oil production continues to expand, indefinitely.

    But oil production has become more and more expensive, involving greater energy inputs — essentially, production is devouring more of the oil that is produced — to the point that we have been in a post-peak world for almost a decade already.

    Even if that is not true, and that we will never see a post-peak or even a peak oil period in our lifetimes, that does not mean that the price of oil will not continue to rise at a steady pace.

    In that case, the debate shifts from peak oil to recession-level oil prices.

    When oil reaches $150/barrel, economies fall into recession. Recessions, of course, drive down the price of oil, which leads to economic recovery, and then to rising oil prices, and so forth, in a cycle. But, eventually, there will come a day when the recessionary price decline of oil prices will not fall below $150 because of the steadily rising price of oil.

    In the meantime, air travel becomes a luxury of the wealthy (private jets), and long-distance mass tourism a thing of the past.

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