Caught Short in Rate Hike : Rush on 2 Stamp Finds Post Office Unable to Deliver

Times Staff Writer

Tightly clutching her fistful of letters, Marta Spooner joined the end of a 30-minute-long post office stamp line Tuesday and put in her own 2-cents' worth about the latest postal rate increase.

"This is worse than Christmas," the Canoga Park woman complained. "I'm stuck with a long wait here; I'm stuck with a batch of 20-cent stamps at home. And, to top it off, these are all bills I'm here to mail."

Spooner was among thousands of San Fernando Valley residents who found they were in line for a licking as the price of a first-class letter increased to 22 cents, the first increase since 1981.

At least five Valley post offices ran out of 2-cent stamps as postal patrons flocked in to buy to extra postage to go with their old 20-cent stamps.

3 Million Distributed

Postal officials said more than 3 million of the 2-cent stamps were distributed to Valley post offices and substations, and a similar number was available for distribution starting today.

About 410,000 22-cent commemorative stamps honoring composer Jerome Kern have also been sent to Valley post offices, along with the 1.7 million green-eagle-decorated "D" stamps that postal officials have decreed are also worth 22 cents.

Patrons were sent away grumbling from the Woodland Hills post office when a hand-printed sign was posted on the front door to apologize for the lack of 2-cent stamps.

"It means I can't mail this letter," said Glenda Patton. "I've already put a 20-cent stamp on it. I'm not going to put another one on. I'm not going to give the post office 18 cents. I'll wait."

Jackie Jacquet, a secretary at a Woodland Hills finance office, made two futile trips to the post office for 2-cent stamps. "I need six rolls of them. I've got five rolls of 20-cent stamps I've got to use up."

In the crowded lobby of the main Van Nuys post office, postal technician Tom Buell was struggling to keep a coin-operated stamp machine filled with short strips of 2-cent stamps.

"Twenty-two cent stamps are difficult when machines only take nickels, dimes or quarters. We can give a 1-cent stamp as change, but sometimes people will just paste them on the front of the machine because they don't really want them," he said.

Postal officials expect the rate increase to increase revenues by $1.8 billion a year. Officials said they had no "practical options" to a higher rate because they are required by law to break even.

Local postal administrators promised that Tuesday's stamp shortages and long lines were only temporary.

"We were caught unaware. We had customers who normally buy only four stamps at at time buying 200," said Pacoima Postmaster Leon Washington. "We've had these stamps for a month and a half, but people waited until after the rate change took effect to start buying them."

Jean Roberson, in charge of stamp inventories for all Valley post offices, called Tuesday's rush for stamps "strange" because the new rates were well-publicized in advance.

"Every office I talked to had lines going out the door," she said. "I'm surprised that everybody seemed to wait. It's been hard keeping ahead of the demand today."

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