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Can lobbying preserve paper documents for the oldest seniors?
From that age-friendly government, so here to help. Rant on. I thought the last word had been said about the idiocy of cutting off paper documents before the rest of the older population was online. But no, yesterday's Washington Post ran an article describing the lobbying group, Paperoptions.org. Sneered the Post -- it is funded by envelope manufacturers! -- as being a thorn in the side of the administration’s move to push all remaining documents online, regardless of citizenry ability to access those documents. "The glitzy new thing is to be pro-technology," said John Runyan, Consumers for Paper Options’ executive director. "But a lot of government agencies are saying, 'We’re going electronic and the heck with it.'"
The government is tired of waiting for those pesky offline folk. The last Pew survey about whether seniors were online was published in 2012. Perhaps that means if you're in our high-tech government, with its impressive mastery of all things online, the lack of survey data for nearly 2 years must mean that by now those who weren’t able to use government websites really must be online. Or maybe it just doesn't matter. From the Post -- the "administration pushes to do more business over the Internet, finally seeking to close the technology gap with the private sector." Yet, call me crazy, even the 'private sector' banking industry provides a choice to consumers about how to transact with them.
The last mile is difficult -- and maybe costly? Converting the last 2-3 percent of paper statement recipients appears to net out to around $2.2 million annual cost, and those folkds largely turn out to be elderly and/or in rural areas. But isn't it a relief that the Social Security Administration may have decided to stop threatening those aged 90+. Until lobbying intervened, the SSA staff was trained to refuse to send a waiver form when seniors called. And they had been sending letters until recently: "Please act now as Treasury will continue to monitor your noncompliance." Of course you know that the government is so squeezed financially, which is why sending paper documents may put the federal budget over the brink into catastrophic ruin, as a look at this list illuminates. Oh, gee, you don't see government spending on printed statements on that list?
Lobbyists matter in all things digital -- why not paper? The Post’s Politics point was that lobbying for paper access to government documents was done, horrors, by a group funded by those who stand to gain from producing paper – worried envelope manufacturers. Rightfully worried, the demand for paper products dropped 5 percent on average in each of the past five years. But is the dwindling number of paper documents from the US government killing the paper industry? Or is it perhaps the steady decline of printed newspapers – print advertising dropped $1.8 billion, just in 2012. Or is decline in one paper area offset elsewhere? Did you know that the direct mail industry is now spending $50.4 billion per year (and rising) to get multiple pieces of paper into your mailbox? As for the government, the halls of Congress are crowded, full to the brim with lobbying – and as you can see, the tech industry nears the top of the list in lobbying spending. But their efforts are not -- even as an unintenional side effect -- helping older adults. Did tech industry lobbying have any connection to the end of landlines? The $89/month average price carriers can charge consumers for broadband? The requirement to have set-top boxes and the analog-to-digital cutover? To the envelope manufacturer's lobby, keep on keeping on. Rant off.