Congress will soon debate the rights of Americans to continue receiving paper communications from the federal government, thanks to a Washington, DC-based advocacy group.
January 17 2013
by David Ward, via PrintWeek
In an exclusive interview with PrintWeek, John Runyan,
executive director of Consumers for Paper Options, suggested the matter
could be introduced to the US House of Representatives in a matter of
“Our first step will be a Sense of the Congress resolution as opposed
to a statutory change,” he explained. “It will express the sense of
the House of Representatives that the federal government should take all
appropriate measures to ensure that citizens continue to be provided
with paper-based information products and services, while providing the
ability for all citizens to opt in for electronic delivery if they so
No specific federal agency is mentioned, but Runyan does want to
push government workers to come to a consensus that includes preserving
paper-based communications for a host of functions, including for
example Social Security payments to the elderly.
“We are going to Congress to get them to encourage these federal
agencies to take a more unified look at whats happening throughout the
government” he noted. “I doubt theres a single person in the government
who really understands whats happening with this issue across all the
“Right now 30% of Americans arent online at home,” Runyan continued.
“And 45% of senior citizens dont own a computer, so we clearly have a
digital divide and as a country are really not ready for the government
to decide that digital is the only form of communications for our
Consumers for Paper Options is largely the brainchild of the Envelope
Manufacturers Association, Runyan said, adding the group works with
many other advocacy groups, including Consumer Action, the National
Consumers League, the National Association of Post Masters, Rural Letter
Carriers, the National Newspaper Association, the Taxpayers Union, the
Grey Panthers and the US Postal Service Inspector Generals Office.
“Were networking wherever we can,” he added. “The PIA (Printing
Industries of America) is on our steering committee. Weve had
discussions with AARP (the leading advocacy group for US seniors)
regarding the plan by pension plan managers to have all pension plan
information sent electronically.”
Even though it was only established last year, Runyans group has
already helped secure a major victory recently at the state level.
“There was a battle in California over a bill in the state assembly
that would have mandated electronic only delivery of important policy
based insurance information – and the citizen could opt in to receive it
in paper form,” he said.
After it was alerted to the bill, Consumer for Paper Options brought
it to the attention of several powerful California groups who would have
been impacted as well. The groups quickly sought to remove a portion of
the bill that would have given these insurers to ability to impose fees
on consumers who requested paper based communications. Faced with that
opposition, the bill was quietly shelved.
While all of Consumers for Paper Options current efforts are focused
on government policies toward paper and electronic communications,
Runyan said he hopes the debate going on in Washington will also reach
the private sector – including segments like the financial industry.
In their efforts to push most of their consumers toward electronic
communications, many banks and other financial institutions are looking
at the potential of adding fees and penalties to discourage their
consumers from keeping paper as their primary communications platform.
“We are just ramping and expanding our capability and were looking
to broaden our effort,” he said. “Long term we want to encourage the
private sector not to rush into digital only presentations, but rather
rely on the consumer to decide how they want to receive it.”