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With Capitol in Sight, Postal Customers Struggle to Pay Their Taxes

Customers gathered outside the National Capitol Station post office on tax day. (Niels Lesniewski/CQ Roll Call)

The irony was unmistakable.  

Just blocks north of the Capitol building, confused taxpayers from D.C., Maryland and Virginia were gathered outside the National Capitol Station post office branch, trying to mail their returns to the IRS late in the evening on deadline day.  

Until recently, the large postal facility was open late at night, particularly on April 15. But, as more returns have been filed electronically and the Postal Service has faced budget woes, the extended hours have ceased.  

"Due to the overall drop in first class mail volume and the decline in tax returns filed by mail, no offices in the D.C. area have offered extended hours for the past few years. That said, we regret if customers experienced any challenges in dropping their mail off yesterday evening," a Postal Service spokesman told CQ Roll Call. "Customers are reminded that they should always check the collection box for the posted last collection time before depositing their items in the box."  

Even on Capitol Hill, literally hundreds of folks seemed utterly unaware, asking why newspapers and television stations hadn't made clear that the post office wouldn't stay open until midnight. There was even a fellow who said he prepared tax returns for a living.  

One man, between expletives, said that he had always defended the Postal Service since his mother had been an employee for 22 years.  

"It seems like a cruel joke this night," said one elderly man who said he always completed his tax return on paper and had brought his return to the corner of North Capitol Street and Massachusetts Avenue, late on Tax Day many times before. In the old days, customers said, postal workers would literally have bins along North Capitol Street to collect returns that would get postmarked for mailing to the IRS before the midnight deadline.  

Police officers with the Federal Protective Service showed up at one point, though there was nothing particularly unruly about the crowd. But, that wave of customers from all walks of life became resigned to their fate — late fees and penalties — when one of the officers said around 9 p.m. that there was nowhere in the region accepting mail that late.  

A line formed outside the post office in the basement of Union Station on tax day. (Niels Lesniewski/CQ Roll Call)

A line formed outside the post office in the basement of Union Station on tax day. (Niels Lesniewski/CQ Roll Call)

"I came down here because this was always open," said a woman who said she had driven all the way in from Olney, Md., to mail her return.  

Up the street at the post office in the basement of Union Station, procrastinating taxpayers were playing a hunch. That small postal branch has a self-service kiosk for sending mail, and it prints out dated stamps.  

Lacking other options, people formed a line that snaked down around the corner past the bathrooms, just hoping to get through before midnight. It was not clear, though, if the IRS would consider the dates on the stamps as postmarks.  

Next year, some of these folks said, they will finally make the transition to filing on the Internet.  

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