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The new postage rate is too much for Capitol Hill’s state-of-the-art stamp machine.

The stamp machine at the U.S. Postal Service’s Southeast Station on Capitol Hill is on the cutting edge of postage-vending technology, officials say. It’s a General Farebox Model 624, among the most up-to-date machines in the country.

But when the future arrived on July 1, in the form of a 3-cent rate increase, the Capitol Hill machine was overwhelmed.

According to neighbors and would-be patrons, that single stamp machine has broken down at least four times since the prices went up, leading to long lines and forcing customers to go elsewhere. Delonte Moore, who manages the Mailboxes Etc. across Pennsylvania Avenue from the Southeast Station, says refugees from the post office had cleaned out his entire stock of 37-cent stamps and 3-cent rate-hike adjusters by 3 p.m. on the first of the month.

“We’re seeing the same people over and over,” Moore says. “The most often-repeated phrase I hear is, ‘That’s the worst post office in the city.’”

On the morning of July 9, Capitol Hill resident Frank Mathis waits outside for the Southeast Station to open, hoping to mail a letter he’s been trying to send since July 5. “I only needed one stamp,” Mathis recounts. But when he went to the post office, he says, “the machine was broken, and I saw that long line. I had to leave. I had better things to do.”

Deborah Yackley, U.S. Postal Service spokesperson for the D.C. area, says the machine at the Southeast Station is “not permanently broken,” but concedes it has gone kaput “on some temporary basises.”

“Absolutely no longer than two hours at a time has it been down,” she says.

With customers all scrambling to get the new stamps, these breakdowns have been enough to produce mass delays. But it’s not the Postal Service’s fault, Yackley maintains.

And the breakdowns are not the fault of the machine, Yackley says, but a result of heavy traffic and human error. “The trouble is,” she says, “a lot of people don’t follow the instructions.”

After a purchase, she explains, the machine gives a prompt that asks, “Do you want a receipt?” Customers in a rush just grab their stamps and run, ignoring the message. If the next person tries to insert money before the transaction is completed, then the machine breaks down.

Even when a machine goes down, Yackley adds, customers can still buy stamps from the clerks at the counter. If people don’t want to wait in line, that’s their problem.

“We can’t do anything about people all coming in at once and having to wait to buy 3-cent stamps,” Yackley says. “As long as we have the supplies to furnish them, we consider ourselves successful.” CP