Just how desperate for revenues is the United States Postal Service? Here’s one indication: A family in Connecticut recently stuffed 80 invitations in neighbors’ mailboxes for a Halloween block party, and now the postal service is demanding 44¢ per envelope—even though the postal service didn’t deliver any of them.
We’ve all heard about how the U.S. Postal Service has been bleeding money for years, and that drastic steps may be taken to help it avoid bankruptcy—including the end of Saturday delivery, and closing half of its processing and distribution facilities.
It’s not quite common knowledge, however, that it’s illegal to place a letter in a mailbox without proper postage—and yep, that goes for dropping off a party invitation over at the neighbor’s house. Even more surprising: The postal service is actually trying to enforce the rule.
A local TV station in Connecticut (hat tip: Consumerist) reported that Sickle family, of East Hampton, did quite a neighborly thing by inviting all the neighbors to a Halloween block party. Invitations were left in the mailboxes of some 80 neighbors’ homes.
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On Monday, the Sickles received a letter notifying them that it was against the law to deposit mail in a mailbox without postage. The next day, another note arrived from the postal service. This time, it was a bill: 44¢ for each personally delivered invitation, which would be $35.20 total.
A General Accounting Office report from 1997 notes that, indeed, a law called the “mailbox restriction” was passed in 1934 that “prohibits anyone from placing mailable matter without postage into any mailbox.” So it’s illegal. But … come on!
The law was passed for the sake of mail security and privacy, and it doesn’t hurt that it would also help increase the postal service’s bottom line. But the incident in Connecticut just makes the postal service seem silly and bureaucratic, even a bit desperate. There would have been nothing wrong, for instance, had the family dropped the invitations on doorsteps or slid the envelopes through door slots, which aren’t covered the same way that mailboxes are.
(MORE: Will Post Office Cuts Cost Your Credit Card Late Fees?)
In other postal news, the Wall Street Journal reported last week that one way the USPS is hoping to increase revenues is by encouraging businesses to send more junk mail. Bulk or advertising mail—what you and I would call “junk mail”—now accounts for 48% of all mail delivered by the postal service. Even so, the USPS wants small businesses to mail more and more unsolicited promotions and come-ons to residents. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe told the WSJ:
“We don’t call it junk mail—it’s a lucrative avenue for anyone who wants to reach customers.”
So which would you rather find in your mailbox: An invitation to a block party with (gasp!) no postage, or yet another clothing catalog or credit card application?
Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.