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Alaska villages hit hard by postal changes

Mon., May 14, 2007

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – The new U.S. Postal Service rates that go into effect today have people in Alaska’s remotest villages worried about more than just paying 2 cents more for a stamp.

The Postal Service also is bumping up rates for Alaska’s one-of-a-kind discount mail program, which ensures that groceries and other basic supplies arrive regularly in 139 villages that cannot be reached by any road.

For these communities, where prices already are high, the roughly 13 percent increase will affect the cost of all sorts of items, retailers say.

Even before the postal increase, a regular-size box of cereal could cost more than $8 in some villages, and milk cost more than $7 a gallon.

“The villages are already having a hard time. A lot of people live on food stamps, and I don’t think they get very far,” said 85-year-old Josephine Roberts, who lives in the Athabascan Indian village of Tanana.

The community of 260 people lies 130 air miles west of Fairbanks, Alaska’s second-largest city. Large shipments can reach it only by plane or the barges that navigate the nearby Yukon River after the summer thaw.

The Postal Service program pays Alaska’s air carriers to deliver the mail and gives shippers a break, charging third- and fourth-class postal rates for what is essentially first-class service. Packages sent through the program are known as “bypass mail” because they circumvent the post office and go directly to air carriers for delivery.

Shipments must total 1,000 pounds or more to qualify for the reduced postage, and the individual parcels that make up a shipment weigh 35 and 70 pounds each. Only businesses based in Anchorage or Fairbanks qualify to pay bypass rates.

As of today, the cost to mail a 50-pound package through bypass will rise to $12.39 from $10.95, according to Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

The service costs the Postal Service close to $70 million each year, said Steve Deaton, a USPS network operations specialist in Anchorage.


 

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