I hope you all had a nice weekend. For those of you here in the United States, I trust that you enjoyed the holiday weekend and were able to give this summer a nice send-off.
I’d like to start today by recognizing our own Lynne Tatum. Lynne’s article in this week’s magazine marks her 100th offering. In her writing thus far, she has regaled us with everything from exciting city tandem bike rides, to musical performances, and technological advancements that have benefitted the visually impaired community. Please join me in thanking Lynne for her fantastic work in the magazine up until this point. We hope to have her around for a very long time.
I’d also like to take a moment to share something with you all that was brought to my attention this past week. Two readers emailed me expressing concerns and frustrations with a problem they experienced when sending and receiving items through the mail marked Free Matter for the Blind. Braille material was sent in two boxes from one reader to another. One of those boxes was a reused USPS Priority Mail box that was relabeled. The packages were suspected to be sent under that designation fraudulently, and the recipient was held liable for postage in the amount of roughly $36.
This incident raises two issues. First, it appears that there is a grey area open to interpretation regarding items marked Free Matter for the Blind. The recipient’s postal worker told her that the problem could have been due to the appearance of the reused box, and that a worker at the Post Office might have thought it was labeled Free Matter in an attempt to scam them. When she spoke to a supervisor about the issue and to pursue a refund, the supervisor was not initially aware that individuals could send mail Free Matter for the Blind, and thought only certain organizations like the NLS or American Printing House could use that service. He rechecked the regulations and discovered otherwise.
The other issue which was brought up to the recipient during her talk with the supervisor is that reusing a Priority Mail box is not allowed because items shipped in those boxes are sent differently and postage fees are higher.
The regulations regarding mail classification for Free Matter items, as laid out on the Postal Service website, read: “Matter mailed free under this standard is not considered part of any particular class of mail and is not protected against postal inspection. This matter is treated as First-Class Mail for the exclusive purposes of determining appropriate standards for processing and delivery and for handling if undeliverable.”
However, in a different section regarding packaging, their regulations read: “Express Mail and Priority Mail packaging provided by the USPS must be used only for Express Mail or Priority Mail, as applicable. Regardless of how the packaging is reconfigured or how markings may be obliterated, any matter mailed in USPS-provided Express Mail or Priority Mail packaging is charged the appropriate Express Mail or Priority Mail price.”
So, it seems that despite the box being marked Free Matter, which automatically designates the package as First-Class Mail, anything placed in a Priority box is automatically designated Priority mail no matter what markings or labels are on its surface.
It took me roughly 30 minutes of reading through multiple sections of Postal Service regulations to find any details regarding restrictions with Priority packaging. Frankly, if this designation exists, it should be coupled with the rules for sending items Free Matter so that people are aware of this rule and can protect themselves from having to cover unnecessary costs.
While it appears that the recipient will be refunded for the regular box that was sent, the Postal Service will not offer her a refund for the reused Priority Mail box. This is quite unfair since she had nothing to do with how the items were packaged and the shipper was most likely unaware of the regulations regarding Priority Mail boxes because they are literally buried in the Postal code.
Due to the nature of this incident, it is my recommendation that all items shipped Free Matter for the Blind be sent in plain, regular boxes or envelopes with no older labeling exposed so as to avoid any misguided interpretation regarding the legitimacy of the item or any incidental charges that the recipient or sender may be required to pay.
I will keep you all up to date on this issue as I receive information from both parties involved.
That should cover everything for now. I hope you all have a nice week.
Take care, and as always, thanks for reading.
Ross Hammond, Editor