Groups call for strong oversight to protect consumers from combined Comcast-NBC – National Consumers League

January 19, 2011

Contact: (202) 835-3323,

Washington, DC – Despite tough talk about reining in out-of-control media consolidation, the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice have allowed the merger of two of the largest media empires in the country – Comcast and NBC Universal – to proceed.

In response, the National Consumers League released the following statement, attributable to Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director:

“Increased concentration among industry titans rarely benefits consumers. We appreciate that the merger has real, enforceable and pro-consumer conditions attached to it. However, these conditions will not be worth the paper they are written on without rigorous oversight by the FCC and DOJ. NCL, along with our consumer and public interest group colleagues will be closely monitoring the effects of this merger to ensure that the combined Comcast-NBCU does not abuse its market power.”

Consumer Action released the following statement, attributable to Linda Sherry, Director of National Priorities:

“Even with the conditions, we are disappointed that the FCC and DOJ did not seem to accept the tenet that the larger the company, the more imbalanced its relationship with consumers becomes. Consolidation inevitably leads to consumers losing the choices that come from a competitive marketplace.”


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

About Consumer Action

Consumer Action has been a champion of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. A nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, Consumer Action focuses on financial education that empowers low to moderate income and limited-English-speaking consumers to financially prosper. It also advocates for consumers in the media and before lawmakers to advance consumer rights and promote industry-wide change.

Drink up! Tap water key to dental health – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

The Washington Post had an interesting piece yesterday by writer Juliet Eilperin about using filtered or bottled water when she was pregnant and losing out on the important benefits that fluoridation in tap water provides. What I found interesting is that she expressed surprise about this fact. If a reporter for the Washington Post doesn’t know this important health information, then we need to do a whole lot more educating.

Bottled water consumption has doubled over the past decade and as a result, the exposure to fluoride from tap water, which can not only prevent tooth decay, it can repair tooth decay, has been reduced as well. Eilperin quotes a professor of dental sciences who says we should “look at this issue.” That’s an understatement. Eilperin opted for bottled water because of various trace chemicals found in the District of Columbia’s water system that are potentially harmful to health. She’s right that water that contains dangerous concentrations of harmful chemicals can be a threat to health of adults and children. But whether DC’s water reaches those levels is another question and whether it’s the right calculus to trade away the benefits of fluoride because of fear of these trace chemicals is another matter. That really does need to be studied. I also live in DC and make a point of drinking the water here and using ice cubes from DC water for my family because I want all of us to benefit from the fluoride. I guess I’ve made the decision that having healthy teeth is more important than worrying about ingesting tiny concentrations of chemicals.

But the value of fluoride cannot be understated. United States municipalities began adding it to public drinking water systems in the 1940s. Today, about 65 percent of Americans get fluoridated tap water, including 95 percent of people in Virginia, 99 percent in Maryland, and 100 percent in the District. It’s a huge public health advancement, because tooth decay and dental disease has such a ripple effect on health. If a child has a toothache, she can’t go to school, her parent has to take time off work to see a dentist, and the costs involved can be very high. For families with low and moderate income, dental care can be prohibitively expensive. So fluoride, as a prevention tool, is a very important health measure. And for an adult with tooth decay, missing a front tooth can prevent them from getting a job or getting a promotion.

Eilperin’s DC dentist told her that after officials began fluoridating public water supplies, “the cavities rate was cut in half. The only thing they could attribute it to was fluoridating the water.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies fluoridation of public drinking water as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century, noting that studies show it reduces cavities in adolescents by between 8 and 37 percent, and among adults by 20 to 40 percent.

Still, a South Australia study conducted between 1991 and 1995 showed that children who drank only rainwater and bottled water had a 52.7 percent higher rate of cavities in their baby teeth than those who drank only public, fluoridated tap water.

Not all filtered or bottled waters are totally devoid of fluoride: Brita filters do not strip it out of tap water, and some bottled brands such as Nursery Water advertise that they add the mineral. The ADA has introduced a certification program for foods and beverages that are beneficial to oral health, including fluoridated bottled water, in part to encourage bottlers to provide optimally fluoridated water.

Martha Ann Keels, the division chief of pediatric dentistry at Duke University, tells parents that taking a fluoride supplement (if you don’t drink fluoridated tap water) as effective as fluoride toothpaste in helping your teeth resist the impact of acid they’re exposed to during the day.

“The main benefit of fluoride is topical: You put it on the enamel to recharge it,” Keels said. “It’s like putting shoe polish on your shoe.”

That sounds good to me. Oral health is a critical component of overall health, and we need to spread the word about the importance of brushing with fluoridated toothpaste twice a day, drinking tap water wherever possible, and seeing the dentist twice a year. The benefits will pay off exponentially.

National Consumers League standing strong against those wishing to repeal Affordable Care Act – National Consumers League

January 19, 2011

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323,

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League, the nation’s oldest consumer group, announced today that it has joined with other consumer, health, and worker groups, to take a stand against efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. For decades, NCL has advocated for substantive reform to America’s health care system and was a staunch supporter of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which passed last year. Advocates argue the Act finally “allows us to move forward toward a higher quality system that is more patient-centered and cost-effective.”

“We recognize that reforming our health care system was no easy task, and we’re certainly not finished making improvements to Americans’ health care in terms of both quality and access,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “But the Affordable Care Act is a large step forward towards the goal of insurance for all, and to repeal it would be a terrible disservice to individual consumers and workers and to our nation as a whole. We support the lawmakers who continue to put ensuring quality health care for all Americans ahead of politics today.”

Throughout NCL’s history, providing a safety net for Americans also means providing basic health needs of our citizens. The ACA – a long overdue measure – finally accomplishes that goal. No family should have to face financial ruin because of a medical condition or accident. If every other industrialized country in the world can give their citizens access to basic health care needs, surely the United States – the wealthiest country on earth – can find a way to do so. NCL opposes any and all efforts to undue or undermine the provisions of the ACA. We are proud to join with groups that share our passion for this cause.

American consumers need the Affordable Care Act, which is estimated to reduce the federal deficit by $100 billion over the next decade.  Repealing the law would add $230 billion to the deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and would leave 32 million people without insurance they would otherwise get under the Act. Without subsidies to the state insurance exchanges, consumers would likely see their health insurance premiums rise.

By repealing the law, consumers will once again face lifetime limits on health insurance coverage, may be denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions, and plans could provide fewer benefits and cover fewer costs.

“As consumers and workers, we need the protections afforded by the Affordable Care Act, as we continue to shift our health care system to one that emphasizes quality care and promotes health and wellness, said Greenberg.


About the National Consumers League

Founded in 1899, the National Consumers League is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. NCL is a private, nonprofit membership organization. For more information, visit

A tribute to MLK – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

This weekend we pay tribute to the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy of  racial equality, racial unity, and non-violence. The National Consumers League has a deep connection to the cause of racial equality –  Florence Kelley, the League’s leader from 1899-1932, was a founding member of the NAACP. After last week’s violence in Tucson that left six dead and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords hospitalized with a grave bullet wound to the head, Dr. King’s message of nonviolence is needed now more than ever.  The political landscape in the United States is polarized – Tea Party activists have captured the emotions of the right, and elected 40 new members of Congress who seem to believe  government is the enemy. In the aftermath of this terrible attack in Tucson, Democrats and Republicans in Congress are looking for ways to display unity. We could sure use someone like Dr King today to help bridge that gap — not a politician but someone on the outside who can be a voice both of protest and reconciliation.

Dr. King consistently spoke about what was right, what was moral, no matter how unpopular. He and his followers paid a heavy price for their stance: in the quest for equal treatment for Blacks and their determination to dismantle Jim Crow,  some of King’s followers paid with their lives. Others were jailed, attacked by dogs, and  beaten by baton-wielding police. Yet they refused to attack back, preaching nonviolence that ultimately won the day and transformed America’s beliefs on racial equality.

Dr. King  was consistent – when he saw prejudice and wrongdoing, he spoke out,  even if it didn’t specifically address the cause of racial equality or was unpopular among members of his own community. For example, Dr. King opposed the war in Vietnam as early as 1967, tying his position to his belief in nonviolence.

I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men. I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

Similarly, Dr. King, in the face of Anti-Semitism from some members of the Black community,  stood with Jewish Americans . “Antisemitism, the hatred of the Jewish people, has been and remains a blot on the soul of mankind. In this we are in full agreement. So know also this: anti-Zionist is inherently Anti-Semitic, and ever will be so.”

This weekend, as we pay tribute to Dr. King, a man whose bravery, eloquence, and righteous commitment to nonviolence in the name of racial equality, we’re reminded in the aftermath of last week’s violence in Arizona how much his voice is missed today.

USDA to school lunch ladies: less fries, more fruit – National Consumers League

The days of Mystery Meat Mondays may soon be over for schoolchildren across the nation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is proposing new guidelines for school lunches subsidized by the federal government, the first major nutritional overhaul in 15 years.

The new guidelines would require schools to drastically lower the amount of sodium in school meals, limit children to one cup of starchy vegetables (such as French fries) per week, and increase servings of fruit, whole grains, and low-fat milk.

The requirements are based on the 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Medicine that advocated reducing sugar, saturated fat, and sodium but increasing protein and whole grains.

Following these recommendations, the new USDA guidelines would:

  • Establish the first calorie limits for school meals
  • Ban trans fats
  • Reduce the amount of sodium in school meals by 50 percent over a 10-year period
  • Gradually increase the amount of whole grains required
  • Require both a grain and protein served for breakfast
  • Require more servings of fruits and vegetables
  • Require all milk to be either low-fat or non-fat

A before-and-after comparison of the new lunch standards can be viewed here

The proposal arrives at a critical time for America’s youth. According to the USDA, roughly one-third of children between 6 and 19 years old are overweight or obese, and the number of obese children has tripled over the past few decades. Obesity, a serious health concern in its own right, often leads to other problematic and hard-to-treat medical conditions such as diabetes and sleep apnea.

Experts argue that improving the nutritional value of school meals would be a giant step toward a healthier America. According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the new guidelines could affect more than 32 million children, an impressive number given that children consume more than half of their calories at school.

Although these guidelines are just a proposal and implementation could be far off, the Obama administration has been moving quickly on the nutrition issue; today’s announcement comes just a few weeks after President Obama signed the $4.5 billion Healthy Hunger-Free Kinds Act of 2010 that required the new nutritional standards and helps schools pay for healthier foods.

The USDA is seeking feedback on the proposed rule at through April 13, 2011.

Digging through decades of a family estate – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

I spent the holidays combing through family papers and heirlooms in my family’s home in Minneapolis. My siblings and I were cleaning out the home we grew up in, a house that has been in the family for more than 70 years. Among the items I had to deal with was my childhood coin collection. I loved the books that held the Buffalo nickels, the Lady Liberty dime, the gorgeous silver Lady Liberty Dollars, and the Indian Head Pennies. I never had an impressive or valuable collection, but I used to enjoy sorting through the coins and looking at the often-hard-to-read dates. But I didn’t want to transport the coins back to my home in Washington, DC – nickels, dimes, and quarters are heavy! So I brought them to a rare coin dealer I found on the Web to see if any had value and whether I could sell them back.

I sat down with one of the experts, who looked through the coins and told me that none of them was terribly valuable, but the older ones did have some silver content. Silver prices have soared in recent months for reasons I don’t fully understand. My expert was taking notes, keeping numbers on what I had. I figured, given that the coins were not themselves valuable, I’d get $20-30 for the collection. Next thing I know he’s sending me upstairs to the bank with a check for $328! That is how much the silver in the older coins was worth.  I was astonished and delighted at getting this unexpected windfall. I must admit, however, that I feel a little sad that I no longer can look through those beautiful Buffalo nickels.

My siblings and I are holding an estate sale at the home in Minneapolis. I didn’t realize how useful these events are – not just for those who are looking for furniture and other items at bargain prices, but for the family. After more than 70 years in the house, our family collection of furniture and clothing is overwhelming. I had tried in recent visits to dispose of my mother’s designer bags, hats, and dresses and my father’s drawers of Brooks Brother’s shirts and bookcases of hardcover books. We did donate many of my mother’s designer dresses to the University of Minnesota’s school of fashion and design, but the other possessions are just too numerous.

And the problem with the vintage clothing or used book stores is they give you a pittance when you bring them in individually – $2 or an item or for a whole box of books, when you bring them in individually – yet they will turn around and sell them (particularly vintage clothes), for a lot of money. The advantage of an estate sale is that the folks running it will price the items much higher and the vintage/used book/antique stores will pay a much fairer price. The estate sale company then keeps 25 percent of the gross and the family gets the rest, minus the cost of advertising the sale. It’s a win/win for both buyers and families.

One caveat, however: as with all consumer services, you have to do your homework and use care in choosing the estate sale company. Find one that comes well recommended and will carefully cull through your family belongings, ferreting out first edition books or money found in pockets of coats and turn these items over to you. Then they come in, spend five or so days marking items and setting them out for display, and hold the sale, often both days of a weekend. The stuff that doesn’t go the first day gets discounted.

For families, it’s a manageable way to discard the decades of belongings that pile up and offers estate sale shoppers an affordable alternative to lamps, rugs, and furniture.

Groups urge FCC to protect consumers from wireless ‘bill shock’ – National Consumers League

January 10, 2011

Contact: 202-835-3323,

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League today joined a number of leading consumer and public interest organizations to urge the Federal Communications Commission to help consumers avoid wireless “bill shock.” In response to the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the groups called for greater consumer protections, including:

  • Requiring wireless carriers to inform consumers if they are going over their limit and will be hit by fees due to international or domestic roaming, exceeding allotments of voice, text or data, or other reasons;
  • Creating a “circuit-breaker” mechanism that would require consumer consent before higher-than-expected charges can be incurred; and
  • Requiring clear, conspicuous and ongoing disclosure of tools available to manage usage.

“Numerous studies have found that millions of consumers are affected by wireless ‘bill shock,’” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “Given the increasingly complex nature of the wireless marketplace and the high fees that are charged when consumers exceed their usage limits, it is imperative that common-sense protections be put in place. Coupling timely alerts with robust usage controls and a requirement for consumer consent before penalty fees can be charged will go a long way to protect consumers from bloated bills.”

Joining with NCL in filing comments were the Center for Media Justice, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Free Press, Media Access Project, the National Hispanic Media Coalition and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative. To access the groups’ comments, click here.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit a big win for consumers – National Consumers League

A child falls off a bike with faulty handlebars. A toddler gets injured in a poorly designed stroller. An entire family becomes ill from their home’s toxic drywall. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) collects thousands of safety incident reports like these each year, but never before have those complaints been made public.

All that is set to change in March of 2011, when the CPSC will launch its new public complaint database,, and will allow consumers to post and view safety reports of products that fall under the agency’s jurisdiction (the CPSC does not oversee products like cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, cars, or tires).

The CPSC’s decision to make all its complaints public, as required by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, was immediately celebrated by consumer rights advocates as a valuable resource in helping consumers make informed decisions about the safety of the products they buy.

Major manufactures have been less enthusiastic about the plan. In a recent Washington Post article, Rosario Palmieri, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, voiced concern that the database will subject businesses to inaccurate and malicious reports by competitors or fanatical consumers who intentionally want to damage a brand.

This argument seems weak in light of the popularity of user-generated review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List, where it’s relatively easy to weed out the rantings of disgruntled employees or bitter competitors from more legitimate complaints.

A concern with considerable more weight is the fact that, as a government agency, the CPSC carries a lot of clout; a negative report posted by a government-sponsored site could be much more damaging than complaints posted in less official channels. To prevent this, the CPSC has implemented a variety of safeguards to ensure public postings don’t recklessly damage a brand’s reputation:

  • When a consumer files a complaint, the CPSC has five days to notify the manufacturer
  • The manufacturer then has 10 days to respond
  • If a company believes the complaint is false or gives away a trade secret, the CPSC will make a decision of whether or not to publish it
  • If the report is published, the manufacturer still has the opportunity to write a response that will be published alongside the complaint has the potential to be an effective early warning system that saves lives and injury by alerting customers to potential dangers—long before the years and months it can take the CPSC and manufacturer to coordinate a successful recall.

CPSC’s consumer complaint database welcome by advocates – National Consumers League

January 10, 2011

Contact: (202) 835-3323,

Washington, DC–The National Consumers League, the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy group, applauded the recent announcement of the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s plan to publish consumer complaints about dangerous or defective products.

“Consumer advocates have worked for more than a decade – I did so myself when I served as Product Safety Counsel at Consumers Union – to make vital facts the CPSC receives about dangerous products available to other consumers,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “This is particularly compelling for products used by children: cribs, car seats, strollers, and swings. Parents wanting to check on the safety of a product before they buy it should absolutely have access to this database.”

While some members of the retail industry claim this database will be confusing to consumers, or unfair to manufacturers, NCL advocates argue that the CPSC’s database is simply moving the commission forward to the current era, in which consumers rate products and share information about a wide variety of industries, from travel services to product reviews. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has provided consumers with access to similar information and has done so for years.

“There is no justification for keeping this information from the public. It will enhance safety and empower consumers. We applaud Chairman Tenenbaum and Commissioners Adler and Moore for their support for this long-waited database,” said Greenberg.

The compilation of consumer complaints is set to be launched online in March by the CPSC. According to news reports, under the new system, when a consumer files a complaint, the CPSC has five days to notify the manufacturer, which in turn has 10 days to respond. A company can challenge the complaint as false, argue that posting it would result in revealing a trade secret, or submit a written response, which would be published alongside the complaint in the database.

If a company argues that a consumer complaint is false or discloses confidential business information, the CPSC will make a decision as to whether to withhold or publish the complaint. Anyone filing a complaint must identify themselves, but that information will not be published and would be disclosed to the manufacturer only with the consumer’s permission.

The database is restricted to the 15,000 types of consumer goods overseen by the CPSC, which do not include food, drugs, medical devices, cosmetics, tobacco, automobiles, or tires.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit



National Consumers League names Doe, Kim to Board of Directors – National Consumers League

January 6, 2011

Contact: (202) 835-3323,

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League has named Hilary Doe, National Director of the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, and Dr. Jinhee Kim, Associate Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, to its Board of Directors for the 2011 term.

“Hilary and Jinhee are uniquely qualified to serve on NCL’s Board of Directors and will bring a wealth of experiences to the positions,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “Our esteemed Board represents the interests of consumers and workers, committed to the mission of consumer advocacy that our founders began more than 100 years ago. We welcome Hilary and Jinhee and look forward to working with them.”

NCL, the nation’s oldest consumer organization, is a private, nonprofit membership organization governed by a board of directors with diverse experience in consumer protection and advocacy, law, business, labor, and public affairs. Headquartered in Washington DC, NCL has affiliated members from every state and collaborates with an extensive nationwide consumer action network.

Hilary Doe serves at the Roosevelt Institute, a grassroots, youth-run think tank fostering the next generation of progressive, American leaders. Prior to joining the Roosevelt Institute, Doe worked at the Anderson Economic Group and held positions with the Brookings Institution and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. Doe’s background is in non-profit management and public finance. She holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy, as well as a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Michigan.

Dr. Jinhee Kim teaches Personal and Family Finance at UMD, College Park, where she has conducted significant research in financial stress, health, and employee work outcome behaviors, as well as credit counseling and the debt and food resource management of low income families. Before joining the UMD faculty, Kim served as Director of Research for the National Institute for Personal Finance Employee Education at Virginia Tech and Leader of the Maryland Saves Coalition. Dr. Kim holds a Ph.D in Family Resource Management from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University.

For a complete list of officers and board members, visit


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit