By Carol Comegno/Courier Post
A 100 percent increase in the cost of shipping military care packages to troops abroad has outraged New Jersey nonprofit groups who send them.
Several state and federal lawmakers also have joined in opposition and seek reversal of the U.S. Postal Service rate hike.
"Sadly, this affects those who deserve the utmost best — our U.S. service members. And for those receiving care packages from us, we will not be able to touch their lives as frequently as we have in the past," said David Silver, volunteer president of South-Jersey based Operation Yellow Ribbon.
Silver said his organization was caught off-guard by the "dramatic change" in costs.
U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur wrote a protest letter to Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan calling for the elimination of the increase. He also has asked the House Oversight Committee to investigate the rate change.
“I see letters all the time from our men and women in the armed services expressing how encouraging it is for them to know that the civilian population here at home is keeping them in our thoughts and prayers,” said MacArthur, whose district spans parts of Burlington and Ocean counties.
“We owe it to these organizations and our troops to reverse this unexpected decision and investigate why these changes were made without alerting nonprofits.”
In another supportive action, state lawmakers in the 8th Legislative District have started an online protest petition.
The Postal Service recently consolidated five military mail centers throughout the U.S. into one location in Chicago, causing rates for shipping packages overseas to more than double for the Northeast and some other regions.
Military packages from New Jersey used to be handled in New York, but East Coast bulk military packages must pay a higher domestic postage rate because they now are sent to Chicago before being shipped overseas.
Silver said his organization sent more than 62,000 pounds of care packages last year to Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey and other Middle East countries. Donations from individuals and businesses financed the $55,000 cost to send those packages, he said.
“We can’t afford to pay the more than $100,000 to send the same number of packages this year,” added Silver, whose group also coordinates welcome home events for service members.
Ray Daiutolo, a spokesman for the Postal Service’s Bellmawr distribution center, said the consolidation of military mail centers resulted from a need to reduce costs and stay competitive because the agency receives no tax dollars for operating expenses.
He also noted the price change was advertised in the Federal Register in October but wasn't implemented until last month.
In addition to nonprofit groups, the rate hike affects families and others who pay to send military packages from the East Coast.
“The Postal Service continues to offer an excellent value to customers, with other shipping options available as alternatives,” Daiutolo added, suggesting flat-rate boxes are a more affordable and popular way to send packages to troops.
However, Silver and others disagree. They say those boxes are too small; don’t make sense when sending large quantities in care packages that can accommodate bigger items; and are more expensive because it takes four to five flat-rate boxes just to fit into the larger 24-by-12-by-14-inch boxes his organization and others typically mail.
State Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego and Assemblymen Joe Howarth and Ryan Peters, all Republicans from Burlington County, are urging the public to sign the petition for restoration of former rates. Their Marlton office has long been a drop-off point for care package items for Operation Yellow Ribbon.
“Nonprofits in South Jersey have been blindsided by skyrocketing prices to ship care packages to service men and women overseas. The dramatic cost increase came without warning and threatens to severely slash the amount of parcels being sent out,” Howarth said.
Addiego praised Operation Yellow Ribbon for “incredible work.”
Peters is chairman of the Liberty USO Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, which also is affected. That nonprofit handles care packages from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
“The sudden price increase is a sucker punch to our service members overseas who rely on care packages as a lifeline to home and a much-needed respite from the pressures involved with protecting our freedom,” said Peters, a veteran who served combat deployments overseas.
Another nonprofit upset with the rate change is the Troop Mailing Fund, headed by Lloyd Mullikin of Bayville in Ocean County.
“We send them items that make their lives more manageable and comfortable in difficult situations," he said. "This unexpected rate hike by the USPS is going to impact our efforts severely and I am grateful that Congressman MacArthur has our back on this.”
The online petition can be signed at www.senatenj.com/carepackages.