Paper Lobbyists Struggle to Slow Down 'Rush to Go Paperless'

Monday, 17 Feb 2014 06:06 AM

By Elliot Jager

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A lobbying group backed by the paper industry is making the case that the federal government should not go paperless, The Washington Post reported.

The industry says that the "rush to go paperless" is leaving many Americans — among the elderly and poor — at a disadvantage. It says that 25 percent of Americans have no Internet access and that 73 percent prefer to have at least the option of doing business with government the old fashioned way.

Consumers for Paper Options, funded by the paper industry, envelope manufacturers, mill operators, and related trade groups, has been striving to slow the federal government's shift from paper to the Internet.

Going paperless saves money. For example, electronic bank payments cost 9 cents to execute, while a paper check costs the Treasury $1.25. The Social Security Administration saved $72 million by not mailing earnings statements to 150 million benefit recipients.

The largest federal agencies have reduced spending on paper by about $64 million a year.
The downside is that the paper industry has taken a hit, with demand for its products steadily dropping, mills closing, and employees put out work.

John Runyan, executive director for Consumers for Paper Options, said his group simply wants "paper-based information" preserved as an option. "If there are Americans who can't use an iPhone to navigate the Internet, there ought to be an option for them."

The industry group targets lawmakers whose districts include large numbers of older people or workers who depend on the paper industry. It supports efforts to bolster the U.S. Postal Service; fought successfully to ensure that there was money in the budget bill to enable the Social Security Administration to plan for the restoration of paper statements, and worked to keep prescription information inserts in medications, against the wishes of the Food and Drug Administration, which had wanted such data posted online.

Paper industry executives acknowledge that the battle against paperless began belatedly.

"I wish we had launched this effort 10 years ago," said Thomas Howard, vice president of government relations for paper manufacturer Domtar. "But we're on top of things now. Government agencies are in effect slamming citizens by determining how they will receive vital information."

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