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WineAmerica: USPS Shipping Equity Act Reintroduced

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Reps. Newhouse and Wexton reintroduce the USPS Shipping Equity Act
to allow wineries another option for direct-to-consumer shipping. 

By Michael Kaiser

 

On May 25 (National Wine Day), Representatives Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) introduced the USPS Shipping Equity Act (HR 3721). The bill has been introduced nearly every Congress for the last 10 years. This is the first time the bill has not been sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who has since retired from Congress. 

Representative Dan Newhouse (R-WA)
Representative Dan Newhouse (R-WA)

This legislation would end the Prohibition-era ban that prevents the United States Postal Service (USPS) from shipping alcoholic beverages to consumers, and would let it ship directly from licensed producers and retailers to consumers over the age of 21, in accordance with state and local laws at the delivery location. This bill is critical in leveling the competitive playing field, increasing consumer and manufacturer choice, and generating millions of dollars in revenue per year for the financially strapped postal service.  

WineAmerica supports the USPS Shipping Act, as it would give American wineries another option for shipping their wine safely and legally to consumers. 

There has been a lot of misinformation out there about the bill, primarily pushed from the wholesale tier of the industry. A lot of hay has been made about what this bill would do. Some would have you believe it would open the floodgates for increased access to alcohol for minors. This is simply not true. If a minor wants access to alcohol they will not get their parent’s credit card, go online to a winery’s website and order wine, then wait a week for the delivery and hope the driver decides not to check for an ID during delivery. This argument is absurd on its face. Let’s look at what else this bill does not change.

What the USPS Shipping Equity Act does not change

State and local excise and sales tax collection and regulation of beverage alcohol. Beverage alcohol producers contribute more than $20 billion in annual tax revenue to state and local governments through sales and excise taxes. This legislation does not make any changes to excise tax collection, nor does it inhibit state and local authority in regulating beverage alcohol.

Representative Jennifer Wexton (D-VA)
Representative Jennifer Wexton (D-VA)

A common refrain we hear from our colleagues in the wholesale tier is that states will not be able to collect taxes and continue to regulate DTC sales that are shipped through the USPS. However, the bill specifically states that states will continue to collect taxes and regulate sales of alcohol.

Federal excise tax collection and regulation of beverage alcohol. At the federal level, beverage alcohol remains a highly regulated and highly taxed industry with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) serving as the industry’s lead regulator. Nothing in the USPS Shipping Equity Act changes this, and the TTB will continue to have regulatory jurisdiction over the beverage alcohol industry. 

Strong safeguards to prevent underage consumption of alcohol by minors. Safeguards such as identification checks are critical to preventing minors from purchasing or obtaining beverage alcohol — no matter how it is purchased. A common argument against letting the USPS deliver alcohol is the supposed lack of infrastructure to check for ID and to get an adult signature. This is simply not true. There are various times when a USPS letter carrier will need to get a signature (for certified mail) and see some kind of identification. It is, frankly, insulting to imply that a USPS letter carrier would be unable to manage this task, given they already do it for other deliveries.

The ability to use other common carriers. Beverage alcohol producers will continue to use FedEx and UPS to ship their products. The USPS Shipping Equity Act merely gives wineries one more option for shipping their wine to consumers. If the USPS is allowed to ship alcohol, it does not mean that producers will stop using FedEx and UPS. In reality, many producers will use all three and let the consumer decide which carrier they want to use. 

It takes a team

WineAmerica thanks Reps. Newhouse and Wexton for their leadership on this issue, and we thank the other original co-sponsors of the bill: Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Val Hoyle (D-OR), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Rep. Lori-Chavez DeRemer (R-OR), and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC). 

“While other carriers deliver alcoholic beverages directly to consumers, current law prohibits USPS from taking similar action. Allowing USPS to deliver wine, beer and spirits produced across our great nation provides another option for shipping carriers. This is extremely beneficial to small craft breweries and locally owned wineries, especially in rural regions such as Central Washington, who struggle to gain market access. The time has come for us to shatter these barriers and unlock the tremendous potential of the wine and alcoholic beverage industry,” said Rep. Newhouse. “This crucial legislation has the potential to create opportunity for the wine, beer and spirits landscape, foster economic growth, and empower both consumers and businesses.”

As Rep. Wexton added, “The outdated prohibition on shipping alcohol through the Postal Service is bad for consumers and bad for small businesses — imposing unnecessary costs and hassle. I’m proud to partner with Rep. Newhouse on this long-overdue, bipartisan reform to support local brewers, vineyards and distillers by improving their affordable shipping options and opening up access to new markets.”

WineAmerica is working with colleagues in the beer and spirits industries to pass the USPS Shipping Equity Act. The coalition working to advance the bill includes the American Cider Association, the American Craft Spirits Association, the American Mead Makers Association, the Brewers Association and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Additionally, the coalition is partnering with many letter carrier groups. 

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Michael Kaiser, WineAmerica
Michael Kaiser, WineAmerica

Michael Kaiser

Michael Kaiser is executive vice president and director of government affairs at WineAmerica, which represents wineries and associations from more than 40 states. For more information about WineAmerica and how to get involved, visit www.wineamerica.org.

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