For the Children’s Health Insurance Program, no news is NOT good news – National Consumers League

Since its enactment in 1997, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides health coverage for low-income children, has enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Congress and in turn, been reauthorized regularly without issue–until now. It’s been more than two months since the September 30 deadline to reauthorize CHIP came and went without any Congressional action. While lawmakers maintain that CHIP will be reauthorized eventually, for the nine million children and pregnant women that rely on the program for their healthcare, “eventually” may be too late.

Like so much else in our current political climate, this lapse in CHIP funding is unprecedented. With Congressional Republicans hard-pressed for a legislative victory before year’s end, CHIP will likely continue to take a back seat to other must-pass measures such as tax reform and the government spending package. In the meantime, many states are scrambling to find funds to keep CHIP running. As of now, emergency reserves and temporary funding agreements have allowed states to maintain coverage for the millions of Americans who might otherwise be uninsured, but these short-term fixes are not sustainable. In fact, medical officials in some states have already sent notices to families informing them their coverage is in danger of being disrupted. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, 16 states are projected to deplete their federal CHIP funding by January 2018, and another 32 will exhaust their funds by March 2018.

Should Congress not renew CHIP, the response to the loss of federal funds will vary based upon how CHIP is implemented in that particular state. For states whose CHIP programs are funded through Medicaid expansion, they are still required to cover those beneficiaries, regardless of federal funding. However, with the cost burden shifted completely to state governments, funding for other critical programs such as infrastructure or education will likely be redirected. On the other hand, for the 1.2 million beneficiaries in states with CHIP programs not married to Medicaid, they are likely to lose coverage completely. At that point, families would have to seek more expensive employer-based or marketplace alternatives–but of course, there is no guarantee that they will be able to afford those options.

Despite the lack of urgency in Washington, state governors around the nation are urging Congress to read the writing on the wall. On December 12, a bipartisan group of 12 governors signed a letter to Congressional leaders imploring them to work across the aisle to find a solution that will provide funding for CHIP without a disruption in coverage for its millions of beneficiaries. The inaction by Congress in reauthorizing this vital program has not only already costed hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, but has caused unwarranted chaos and stress for states and families. Moreover, ensuring children have access to regular doctor visits, immunizations, essential prescription medications, and emergency services should not be a partisan issue or a bargaining chip. We have made historic progress in decreasing the number of uninsured children and ultimately improving their health outcomes–much to the credit of enrollment in CHIP. There is no question that if CHIP is not reauthorized, we will undo much of this success.

We must not leave farmworker women out of the harassment discussion – National Consumers League

Norma Flores López is a member of the National Consumers League’s Board of Directors. She is also the Governance and Collaboration/Development Manager of the East Coast Migrant Head Start Project.

Today’s headlines and top hashtags are showing that a powerful movement is building, and its being led by women.

Women–fed up with the constant attack on our bodies, the sexual harassment prevalent throughout our communities and centuries-long inequities in our homes, at the workplace and in the voting booth– are saying, “Enough.” They are displaying courage by organizing, sharing their powerful stories, casting their votes, and creating an effect that can be felt in the halls of Congress, on the movie sets of Hollywood, and through the airwaves. This movement against misogyny and sexual harassment is indeed powerful. It has made influential men step down from their long-held positions of power, it has stopped an accused pedophile from being elected into the Senate, and even made it to the cover of Time magazine.

And we’re just getting started.

We have seen this type of grassroots movement before–a seismic shift in the power paradigm of society, moving us closer and closer towards equity. Yet, we have never achieved the full promise of equality. The work is left halfway done, and we can’t allow this to happen again. We need to make sure that the movement is able to reach the darkest corners of society, in the marginalized communities where the most vulnerable women work and live.

For me, this is in the fields.

I grew up in a migrant farmworker family, where I was taught at a young age the power men held over me. Sexual harassment wasn’t the only kind we experienced. The boss had the power to protect me, but also the power to destroy me. A lifetime of hard work earned my father a position of leadership in most of the fields we worked in, which he used to protect his wife and five daughters. While most women endured cat calls, inappropriate prepositions and harassment, we were spared. Still, we knew the dangers that lurked out there and took no chances. My sisters and I never walked to the portable bathrooms (when they were available) by ourselves, making sure a few of us were always together. We never went anywhere by ourselves, in the fields or on the migrant camp. Ever.

While my father did his best to shield us from these dangers, there were seasons that he wasn’t in charge and our family was separated. We were divided into different teams, each completing different tasks in different fields at any given moment. My mother and I mostly stuck together, and for years, we were in a team under the charge of a middle-aged white man who spoke no Spanish and made it known that he didn’t want to be there. As the season wore on, the work days got longer and his temper got shorter. He became a terror to all of the women working with him. It boiled over and from one day to the next, I became the focus of his fury. I was responsible for the team not completing the work at the pace he wanted. I was responsible for the mistakes made by my teammates. I was responsible for everything that went wrong in the fields. For all of this, I deserved his abuse. He began to hurl insults, curse words, and racial slurs on a daily basis, often at the top of his lungs for everyone in the fields to hear. My mother would stare at me in disbelief and fear, desperate to understand what was happening and to understand his English. “¿Qué te dice, Norma? ¿Qué pasa? (What is he saying? What’s happening?)” she would repeatedly ask me. “Nada, mami,” I would reply, trying to hide the hurt and fear in my voice.

He would often end his tirade with, “You can’t even do field work. What the f**k are you even good for? NOTHING.”

He made me feel worthless and helpless.

I knew that although I was miserable, my family was treated well by everyone else in that company and we were getting paid better than we had in other states where we worked. I knew that if I spoke up, we would get fired and end up homeless and stranded. I knew it would devastate my family financially for the rest of the year–possibly even longer. I knew I didn’t want to be responsible for this, and believed that if I just tried harder, he would leave me alone. I knew that I didn’t have it as bad as other women in the fields.

Women, who make up about 700,000 of the workers in American agriculture, are living in desperate poverty that leaves them especially vulnerable to assault and harassment. Situations can range from groping and propositions, all the way to systemic rape, and it often all goes unseen and unreported. They endure this in silence because they often don’t have any recourse, they are threatened, and their families depend of their incomes to put food on the table. Like in many other industries, the majority of the power in the fields is held by men–individuals who have the power to hire, fire, blacklist and otherwise threaten the economic, physical and emotional security of women.

In a 2010 study from the University of California, Santa Cruz, more than 60 percent of the 150 female farmworkers interviewed said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment. In a 2012 report, Human Rights Watch surveyed 52 female farmworkers–nearly all of them had experienced sexual violence or knew others who had. One woman told investigators that her workplace was called the “field de calzón,” or “field of panties.” As an Iowa immigrant farmworker told her lawyer, “We thought it was normal in the United States that in order to keep your job, you had to have sex.”

Two decades ago, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, along with California Rural Legal Assistance, a legal service program that promotes the interests of migrant laborers and the rural poor, created a joint project to concentrate on sexual harassment in the fields. In 2005, the commission won a $994,000 victory for Olivia Tamayo, a worker at one of California’s largest cattle-feeding operations, who was repeatedly raped by her supervisor. “He took advantage because he knew I wasn’t going to say anything,” she told Ms. Magazine. “It was a trauma that followed me everywhere.

In September of 2016, in one of the largest settlements of its kind, the commission won over $17 million for five farmworkers in Florida who had accused their supervisors of rape and harassment. Some 18 similar cases nationally after 2009 have given women farmworkers $4 million.

State and federal policies rob farmworkers of workplace protections that other American workers benefit from. They are not given the right to organize and are exempted from protections against retaliation. This leaves families, especially women, vulnerable to workplace abuses, which are seen as part of the business. In the fields, the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality allows for abuses of power to become common place. It leaves the women who work every day to feed America feeling worthless and helpless, and robs them of their dignity.

We are reminded by history’s leaders that our greatness is measured by how we treat those in greatest need. It is not enough that our celebrities and middle class women are able to see their perpetrators held accountable for their abusive behavior. We must not leave the hardest work undone. We need to ensure this attention extends into the fields and all places that are out of sight to most of America, places where our women –the poor, the undocumented, the women of color—face this abuse daily and have been fighting back for years.

We can start by supporting the work of LCLAA’s Trabajadoras Program, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, and CIW’s Women’s Group, to name a few. We can also remind leaders in the movement not to leave out our farmworker women from the discussion.

It is our unity that makes us stronger. We are all in this fight together, and as history has shown us, together, women can make a real difference. Let’s make sure that we finish the work we have started.

We are powerful.

Holiday shopping? Some strategies to consider if you are concerned about child labor – National Consumers League

maki.jpgWith the holidays approaching and many Americans scrambling to buy presents, we get many questions from consumers who are interested in shopping responsibly. Newly released data suggests that there are about 40 million individuals in forced labor and 152 million children who are trapped in child labor around the world today. How can one avoid buying products that may contribute to this rampant exploitation?

Unfortunately, there is no clear and simple answer. The supply chains of many companies have multiple layers of production–even reaching into people’s homes—and it’s extremely difficult to monitor this work at all the levels.

Fortunately, there are some tools out there to help consumers make responsible holiday shopping decisions. One of the best is the U.S. Department of Labor’s “Sweat and Toil” mobile app. It informs consumers about 130+ goods that are produced with child labor or forced labor. It will also tell consumers which countries produce those goods and ranks those countries on how well their efforts to reduce child labor are going. You can access this information by clicking here. More than 1,000 pages of valuable information are contained on the site.

If you are about to go clothes shopping, you can quickly look up which countries have been identified as producing clothes with child labor: Argentina, Bangladesh, India, Thailand, and Vietnam. Seven countries used forced labor to produce garments—you’ll have to go to the site or use the app to figure out which ones. It’s actually remarkably easy to use. Please download the “Sweat and Toil” app now—before you forget!

The site and app will help you learn some of the most common products of child labor. Gold, for example, is produced by child mining in 21 countries. Cotton or cottonseed in 18 countries. Coffee is produced by child labor in 16 countries. The data, unfortunately has some limitations. For the most part, it does not list assembled products. For example, many of the metals and minerals that power your smartphone and the batteries that help it work are on the list, but assembled cell phones are not.

We get a lot of questions about product labeling. Why can’t consumers buy a product labeled “child-labor free?” GoodWeave, a nonprofit member of the Child Labor Coalition, issues labels that help consumers buy carpets (and other products coming soon) that are child-labor free. GoodWeave has strict standards and inspection systems, that reach every worker from the factory to village to home. When they find child labor they eliminate it and provide remediation and long-term rehabilitation for the former child laborers. Their programs go well beyond others, ensuring communities across South Asia are “child friendly” and that all children are going to school and learning. It wasn’t that long ago that there were one million children weaving hand-made carpets under slave-like conditions. That number today is believed to be less than 200,000. GoodWeave has transformed the lives of thousands of children in partnership with over 150 brands and retailers. In a few years, we may have several more product lines that we can say with some certainty are child-labor free.

It wasn’t that long ago that there were one million children weaving hand-made carpets under slave-like conditions. That number today is believed to be less than 250,000. The “GoodWeave” label is helping consumers buy carpets that are child-labor free. Goodweave, a nonprofit member of the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), has set up extensive monitoring systems and when they find child labor they eliminate it and provide remediation services for the former child laborers. GoodWeave has transformed the lives of thousands of children and is planning to expand their labelling program to other products. In a few years, we may have several more products that we can say with some certainty that they are child-labor free.

We ask consumers to educate themselves about the intersection of consumer goods and child exploitation. We ask them to support companies that are taking the extra step to eliminate child labor and forced labor. One company that we know well is Divine Chocolate. It works with farmer cooperatives in West Africa to produce Fairtrade chocolate, from locally produced cocoa. Farmers actually own a major share of this company and earn more income which, along with other measures, helps them avoid the use child labor which is rampant in the region’s cocoa production.

We’re a fan of Fairtrade America, also a member of the CLC, because it pays a premium price to farmers for engaging in better labor and environmental practices. Helping farmers prevent child labor and forced labor is one its stated goals and addressing endemic poverty is clearly part of the solution, thanks to committed companies and consumers like you. The incredible difficulty of monitoring remote farms, often hidden under jungle canopies, makes it difficult to say with certainty if products are produced without child labor. But, we love that groups are tackling this issue and working hard with farmers at finding solutions. Fairtrade embraces a “continuous improvement” model as it pursues its goal of child-labor and forced-labor free products.

Patagonia is one of several companies that are taking extra steps to produce products through a clean supply chain. How do consumers find such companies? We recommend checking out the efforts of individual companies online to ensure products are produced responsibly and that workers, including children, are not exploited.

We love that when they became aware of rampant child labor and forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields, many apparel companies began signing the “cotton pledge” promising to avoid buying Uzbek cotton for their clothing. To date, more than 270 companies have made this promise. We generally do not support the use of boycotts, which can lead to deprivation for impoverished rural communities, but when state-sponsored forced labor is in play, we make an exception.

We should note that it’s important that consumers have a critical eye when researching companies, because, as many advocates have noted, some companies talk about “corporate social responsibility (CSR)” but their efforts may not go far enough to address issues of child and forced labor. It can be difficult for consumers to tell the difference between CSR efforts that are “window-dressing” versus those that are substantive.

We also ask consumers to support legislation that helps address the problem. In 2012, California passed the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, which requires large companies to post information online about their efforts to fight human trafficking, slavery, and child labor if the companies are, in fact, engaged in those efforts. The legislation is not a panacea, but it is an important step in the right direction. The CLC and its members have worked on federal legislation that would do the same thing. Unfortunately, the bill has not been re-introduced in the current Congress. We need consumers to call their member of Congress and tell them how important such initiatives are. In the Netherlands, legislation is being considered that would require companies to remove child slavery and child labor from their supply chains—not just report on efforts.

We dream of a day when consumers will be armed with the knowledge they need to make informed shopping decisions and that child labor will become a thing of the past. We ask for your help in bringing about these goals by expressing your concerns to retailers and supporting existing efforts. When consumers make it clear that they expect products to be produced without the taint of child labor and child slavery, we believe companies will work harder to achieve that goal.

Reid Maki is the Director of Child Labor Advocacy for the National Consumers League, America’s oldest consumer advocacy organization; he also coordinates the Child Labor Coalition, which NCL co-chairs. The CLC includes 38 groups fighting to reduce child labor in the U.S. and abroad.

Ambulance costs need regulation, transparency – National Consumers League

One worry people facing life-threatening emergencies shouldn’t have is the cost of an ambulance. Yet a recent article in the Washington Post highlighting a study by Kaiser Health News notes the wildly varying charges of taking an ambulance and the emergence of venture capital firms in owning ambulance services, of which there are 14,000 across the country.

One patient was billed $3,606 for a 4-mile ride; another was charged $8,460 for a ride from one hospital and then to another. These are generally out-of-network charges that patients can neither predict nor control, resulting when the insured’s company can’t come to an agreement on proper reimbursement for the ambulance and so it is left to outside services to charge whatever they want.

Think about this: most ambulances use to be free! Provided by local volunteers or town fire departments. But today, private companies or venture capital firms often run what have become lucrative businesses, putting patients at risk of exorbitant bills they aren’t able to pay. Two scenarios are particularly common: calling 911 or being transferred between hospitals.

Once the service is provided and billed to the patient, the insurance company pays what it deems to be a fair charge and leaves the patient with the balance. The Better Business Bureau received 1,200 complaints on ambulances over three years. And United Health Care has said: “Out of network ambulance companies should not be using emergencies as an opportunity to bill patients excessive amounts when they are at their most vulnerable.” Yet that is exactly what is happening to unwitting patients who think calling 911 is a service provided by their municipality.

There’s also evidence of waste and fraud in the ambulance business, where providers bill Medicare or Medicaid for rides never provided or rides to the wrong facilities to the tune of $50 million. But the Kaiser Health News report is focused on the fleecing of patients who need an ambulance and are unaware  of the  outrageous charges they will be asked to pay. The biggest ambulance company, American Medical Response, charged a man $7,109 for a 20 mile ride between hospitals. When he couldn’t pay it, they sent the bill to a collections agency. Kaiser Health News documents how debt collectors hound patients for the extra fees once their insurance company pays a base amount.

California passed a law in July that protects consumers from surprise medical bills by out-of-network providers that could offer some protections. Congressman Lloyd Doggett  (D-TX) has been pushing a bill to protect patients from out-of-network charges, but it doesn’t seem to be moving.

Patients should check with their local fire department, which might provide ambulance services and with their health plan to see what ambulances are in network. Without those protections, patients are vulnerable to being fleeced by ambulance providers in it for the money. Bottom line: Ambulance services are there to save lives. They should not be a lucrative profit center for venture capitalists or anyone else.

DOT’s gift to the big three airlines is coal in passengers’ stockings – National Consumers League

December 7, 2017

Contact: Cindy Hoang, (202) 207-2832 or

Washington, DC–The Department of Transportation (DOT) today announced that it will abandon efforts to address rampant add-on fees that are major irritants for millions of consumers. By withdrawing two key rulemakings — the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Ancillary Airline Passenger Revenues and the Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Transparency of Airline Ancillary Service Fees — the DOT is signaling that it will allow airlines to continue taking money from consumers’ pockets and generating billions of dollars worth of add-on fees without any meaningful oversight. 

The following statement is attributable to Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League:

“The Big Three airlines just got an early Christmas present from the DOT and airline passengers got scrooged. The fees juggernaut driven by the legacy airlines that saddles consumers with add-on fees shows no sign of slowing. In 2017, the Big Three U.S. airlines — American, Delta, and United — collected more than $11 billion dollars in ancillary revenue in the face of growing outrage by the flying public over this rampant nickel-and-diming. 

Under the Obama Administration, at the urging of consumer advocates, the DOT began the long overdue process of examining the effect of these fees on the flying public and ways to ensure that airlines can’t hide these fees in fine print. Since 2010, these fees have increased by 13%. Because these fees are exempted from excise taxes, they are doubly lucrative for the airlines, costing taxpayers $309 million annually, according to the GAO.

The administration’s decision, a top priority of the industry, will lead to decreased competition, and add needless cost and confusion to consumer’s shopping experience. Simply requiring airlines to publish the full price of a ticket, including baggage fees, is not too much to ask. In its recent study, the GAO identified the differences in airlines’ a la carte systems, as pain points for consumers and a contributor to the rising cost of airline travel for consumers. 

Today’s actions show that the risk of regulatory capture at the Trump DOT is very real. Congress must step in and take action to protect consumers through the passage of the FAIR Fees Act, a bill that would ensure that ancillary fees are reasonable and proportional to the cost of providing a service.“


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