Commentary: Congress needs to protect swipe fee reform

Each day, over 1,000 Virginians walk into one of my three 7-Eleven stores. My stores are at the heart of our communities whether our customers stop in for their morning coffee, an emergency trip for diapers, or for a sandwich at lunch.

When I came to the United States in 1987, the first store I visited was a 7-Eleven. I had stopped in just to rent a movie, but my dream of becoming a 7-Eleven franchisee and owning my own business started that day. In 2007, I achieved my dream and became a 7-Eleven franchisee. I now own and operate three 7-Eleven stores in Northern Virginia and have over 30 employees. Because of 7-Eleven, I’m living the American dream.

So many issues in Washington  impact small business owners like me and how we run our businesses. Every election cycle we hear so much blustery talk from politicians about helping small businesses but rarely see results. But on one issue, 7-Eleven franchisees like me mobilized and succeeded: Republicans and Democrats came together to put small business owners first.

Most of my customers pay with a debit card. On each transaction, banks charge retailers, and ultimately consumers, a processing fee. Before reform, the fees franchisees like me paid to banks for debit card transactions had ballooned to one of our highest expenses after paying our employees and paying for the cost of goods. Especially on small purchases of drinks and snacks – 7-Eleven’s specialty–the biggest banks were making more off of their business than we were.

Small business owners like me were frustrated with continuously rising swipe fees and mobilized to tell our stories to our representatives and senators in Washington. 7-Eleven franchisees gathered over 3 million signatures, one of the largest petition drives in history, and met with their representatives to tell them how out of control swipe fees hurt their business and what they could do to help.

Congress passed the Durbin Amendment with bipartisan support in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill that empowered the Federal Reserve to cap debit card swipe fees charged by banks so they are “reasonable and proportional” to the actual cost of the transaction.

Since debit card swipe fee reform has gone into effect, the average swipe fee for a debit card transaction has gone from 43 cents to 24 cents.

Across the country, retailers saved $8.5 billion just in the first year of reforms — $5.8 billion of which was passed on to consumers. Putting these savings back into the economy has supported 37,000 jobs and helped 7-Eleven franchisees keep prices low and hire and retain employees. For me, swipe fee reform has saved my business $7,200 a year, which has allowed me to retain my 30 employees and keep prices reasonable.

But now, some in Congress want to put the 100 largest banks in the world ahead of all small business retailers and repeal swipe fee reform. This would take 7-Eleven franchisees and other small business owners back to a time when the biggest banks could charge us as high of a rate as they wished on every debit card transaction.

This week, Congresswoman Barbara Comstock and Congressman Don Beyer, who represent the districts my stores are in, will vote on the CHOICE Act, which would repeal debit card swipe fee reform. Thousands of small business owners need Reps. Comstock and Beyer to stand up and put us first. Debit card swipe fee reform puts real savings back in the hands of retailers and consumers. We must protect it.

Small business owners like me are the backbone of 7-Eleven — we’re who you see when you walk into our stores and who keep the lights on, often 24-hours a day. I am asking that Congress support our Main Street businesses. Swipe fee reform isn’t just about 7-Eleven franchisees like me but every small business that hires from within our neighborhoods and supports our communities.

Fazle Bhuiyan owns and operates three 7-Eleven stores in the Northern Virginia area.