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Ensuring Access to Paper Options in Federal Government Policies

AF&PA believes the public should be able to choose the manner in which they receive information and services from the government and not be forced into a digital-only delivery option. Paper and digital formats work together to deliver information to consumers and citizens. In the private sector, many companies use both forms of information delivery to reach the greatest number of people in the most effective way. People who wish to receive paper-based communications and documentation should not be forced to either use digital delivery or forgo the information or service.

AF&PA urges members of Congress to protect individual choice in the manner in which they access government information and services.

Paper-based communications are critically important for millions of Americans.

  • Federal agencies should not eliminate a paper option without a cost-benefit analysis taking into account the costs and benefits to society and the government.
  • Federal agencies should provide adequate public notice to people affected by proposed elimination of a paper option, allowing ample opportunity to provide input and taking public comments into account before making a final decision.
  • Federal agencies proposing the elimination of a paper option must ensure safeguards are put into place to protect personal information from identity theft or fraud before requiring a digital-only option.
  • Government proposals to reduce or eliminate a paper option should not impose discriminatory fees for access to paper information or services.
  • Government policies should not require the public to “opt-in” to continue receiving government information and services in paper format, or use “implied consent” (i.e. requires no action by the consumer) as permission to switch information delivery from paper to digital format.

Increasingly, government is denying individuals’ access to paper-based versions of important federal information and services, without congressional oversight or public input.

Federal agencies are eliminating services and communications such as social security documents, tax documents and forms, prescription drug labels, investment documents, and savings bonds in paper formats, forcing Americans to digital-only access for critical information.

  • The Food and Drug Administration is seeking to eliminate printed pharmaceutical labeling in favor of digital-only access to prescription drug information.
  • In 2015, the IRS eliminated the printed Tax Guide for Individuals, also known as Publication 17. Previously available for free at U.S. Post Offices and in public libraries, Publication 17 is now only available online or for purchase through the Government Publishing Office, which charges $10.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission issued a Proposed Rule that would eliminate the current requirement for mutual fund companies to transmit financial information to investors in paper format.
    • 92 percent of the 965 public comments submitted to the SEC about this rule were opposed
  • In January 2017, the Social Security Administration (SSA) suspended mailing paper statements to citizens under the age of 60 without any public input. This effectively defaults those citizens to digital-only access of their information.

The government’s rush to digitize is shortsighted, leaving many people without a viable option.

  • Such policies discriminate against millions of Americans, many of whom are in rural communities and/or low income households – 45 percent of seniors do not own a computer and 30 percent of citizens do not have online access at home.
  • Many Americans lack computer skills, have concerns about online security, and prefer to have paper documentation of transactions.

For more information, visit afandpa.org/our-products/paper/printing-and-writing-paper​.