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SERVICE STAMPED OUT POST OFFICE: NO FREE MAILINGS FOR POLIO SURVIVORS.

Byline: DENNIS McCARTHY

RESEDA - I've heard about companies trying to nickel and dime their way out of the red, but our crack U.S. Postal Service may have just reached a new low for penny pinching.

Facing projected losses of $3 billion this year, according to the Postal Service's own Board of Governors, a clerk in the rate and classification section of the Santa Clarita Postal Distribution Center found a way for his bosses to increase revenue by $242 a month:

Charge a group of 800 homebound polio survivors the 34-cent price of a stamp to get their monthly newsletters.

Nice touch, guys.

For 10 years, the San Fernando Valley chapter of the Polio Survivors Foundation in Reseda has been allowed to mail its monthly newsletter, ``Polio Reporter'' to its 800 members free of charge under the postal stamp ``Free Matter for the Blind or Handicapped.''

But in April, Lee Seitz, president of the local chapter, got a call from Nel Matias, mailing requirements clerk, saying he was returning 55 of the group's newsletters.

``He said since we weren't blind we didn't qualify for the free mailing,'' said Seitz, whose polio left her a quadriplegic.

``He said there were new regulations, and nowhere did he see anything about polio being a handicap that qualified for free mailing.''

Congress provides for the payment of postage on certain matter mailed for ``the blind and other handicapped persons who cannot use or read conventional printed material.''

It cites these handicaps - in addition to visual impairment which prevents normal reading - as disabling paralysis, muscle or nerve deterioration affecting coordination and control, and confinement in iron lungs or other mechanical devices.

One of the causes of these conditions, listed in the government's own regulations, is infantile paralysis, which is poliomyelitis.

``These newsletters are vitally important to our members because they contain information on new treatments and medications for post-polio syndrome, which most of our people are going through right now,'' Seitz said.

``Many of our people are confined at home, and the only connection they have with the outside world is through our monthly newsletter.

``I asked Mr. Matias if he could please send the 55 newsletters on to them until we could get this matter resolved, since all the other ones must have been mailed.

``He said if I wanted them mailed, they would need a stamp put on them. So we still have those 55 April newsletters, plus our 800 May newsletters sitting here.

``Our homebound people have been calling us every day, wanting to know where their newsletter is,'' she said.

It may not sound like a lot of money - $242 a month - but to a foundation running on a shoestring, and existing solely on the efforts of a few handicapped volunteers and public donations, ``it's a great hardship,'' Seitz said.

Even dropping down to the 15-cent bulk-mail rate is not feasible because it would require able-bodied volunteers, which the group does not have, to separate the newsletters by ZIP code, bundle them up, and take them to the bulk-mailing department at the post office.

``Our few volunteers are all handicapped, like me,'' Seitz said. ``They can hardly use their hands to eat, much less drive over to the post office.

``Our letter carrier has been kind enough to pick up our newsletters in the past.''

Matias said Thursday that he was only doing his job.

``As blunt as that sounds, polio has nothing to do with being blind,'' he said. ``If you can see, nothing in the regulations say you get free postage.''

He kicked the matter up to a higher authority, though, just to be sure - the Rates and Classification Service Center in San Francisco, which came down with a ruling Thursday.

In a letter being mailed to Seitz, Linda Deaktor, manager of the center, basically told the Reseda woman that she would have to prove that her members qualified for free mailing.

To do that, Seitz has to provide the Postal Service certification from a ``competent authority'' - doctor, ophthalmologist, etc. - that certain members of the Polio Survivors Foundation are eligible.

``If you determine that some people are eligible and others are not, you still may mail Polio Reporter to the eligible persons as free matter,'' Deaktor wrote.

``However, you will need to pay postage for copies of the newsletter being mailed to persons who do not qualify for free matter.''

Seitz was stunned when I told her about the ruling that had been faxed to me.

``For gosh sakes,'' she said. ``How am I supposed to do that?''

Yeah, for gosh sakes.

The U.S. Postal Service - down $3 billion and trying to nickel and dime its way out of the red - wants a homebound, quadriplegic polio survivor to go out and prove her group isn't cheating the government so the local post office can pick up an extra couple of hundred bucks a month in stamps.

Nice touch, guys.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Lee Seitz, at her office in Reseda where she puts together the Polio Survivors newsletter, says she doesn't know how her group will afford to pay new mailing charges the Postal Service has told her it will levy.

(2) Lee Seitz doesn't know where she will find able-bodied volunteers to sort the missives and deliver them to the post office.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 15, 2001
Words:892
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