LifeSmarts consumer literacy program launches 2021-22 season with new online learning, scholarship, and community service opportunities for teens

Millions of student leaders have gained real-world knowledge through the program’s 27 years of education and competition

September 13, 2021
Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—Today marks the official launch of the 2021-2022 season of LifeSmarts, a national scholarship competition and educational program for middle-school and high-school students that tests knowledge of real-life consumer issues and is helping to create a future generation of consumer-savvy adults. A new season of LifeSmarts goes live online at LifeSmarts.org today. LifeSmarts is a program of the National Consumers League, the nation’s pioneering consumer advocacy watchdog.

“We are very excited to launch this season of LifeSmarts,” said Program Director Lisa Hertzberg. “For more than a quarter century, LifeSmarts has given students the skills they need to succeed as adults. We’ve seen more than 1.5 million students gain knowledge, confidence, leadership capabilities, and team-building skills. The competition is fun, and the impact of LifeSmarts is life-long.”

As our nation’s education institutions continue to evolve in response to the pandemic, LifeSmarts has evolved as well, offering tools to meet the needs of instructors whether they are teaching inside a classroom or remotely.

“No matter what modality schools are using, LifeSmarts has resources for educators and parents to use during this unique time,” said Hertzberg. “Developing smart and successful citizens, workers, and consumers is always our mission, and we’re here to help students and educators meet the challenges imposed by COVID-19.”

LifeSmarts focuses on five main content areas:

  • consumer rights & responsibilities
  • personal finance
  • technology & workforce prep
  • health & safety
  • the environment

Each year, LifeSmarts competitors answer more than 3.5 million consumer questions about credit reports, recycling, nutrition, social media, state lemon laws, and everything in between. Students are quizzed on their knowledge of these subject areas during online competition. Top-performing teams then advance to statewide competitions, and state champion teams, as well as several wildcard teams, advance to the national championship held each year in a different American city.

The 2022 National LifeSmarts Championship is scheduled to take place in Washington, DC, April 21-24, 2022, where State Champion and Wild Card teams will meet to compete for the national title. Last year’s competition was held virtually.

In addition to online, state, and national competitions, LifeSmarts recognition and awards occur throughout the program year:

Teams of students vie for cash prizes in the online TeamSmarts quiz, which focuses on a specific LifeSmarts content area each month from September through February.

Classroom mentor programs: Five $1,000 scholarships are awarded each winter to winning LifeSmarts students who become LifeSmarts OTC Medicine Safety Mentors to educate younger students and community members about medicine safety. LifeSmarts thanks Johnson & Johnson for underwriting this important community service project.

Partnering with FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), 4-H, and FCCLA (Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America), LifeSmarts complements these organizations’ projects, judging events, competitive events, and activities. LifeSmarts offers special opportunities for members of these student leadership organizations.

LifeSmarts is active in all states and the District of Columbia.

“We are proud of the impact LifeSmarts has made entering its 28th  year educating teens, and we are excited to continue to grow the LifeSmarts program, to educate students about financial literacy, and to create a new generation of savvy, market-ready consumers and workers,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “Too often traditional high school curriculum fails to teach students vital information that will be crucial once students go to college, get their first job, or move out of their parents’ house.”

In addition to hosting the official LifeSmarts competition, LifeSmarts.org provides resources for educators to supplement existing lesson plans. These include daily quizzes, educational videos, lessons, focused study guides, and scholarship opportunities. LifeSmarts lessons closely align with courses taught in family and consumer sciences, business, technology, health, and vocational education. Math and English teachers have also had success with LifeSmarts, as have homeschool and community educators.

Major LifeSmarts contributors include: Amazon, American Express, Intuit, Johnson & Johnson, JPMorgan Chase, Melaleuca, NortonLifeLock, Toyota, Underwriters Laboratories, Western Union, and WSECU, along with a number of state and local sponsors.

Visit LifeSmarts.org for more information.

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About LifeSmarts

LifeSmarts is a program of the National Consumers League. State coordinators run the programs on a volunteer basis. For more information, visit: LifeSmarts.org, email lifesmarts@nclnet.org, or call the National Consumers League’s communications department at 202-835-3323.

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 www.nclnet.org.

Student teams from North Dakota, Kentucky take national honors at LifeSmarts consumer literacy competition 

April 20, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org(412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org(202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—Students from Jamestown, ND, and Webster County, KY were crowned the 2020 and 2021 National LifeSmarts Champions at a virtual event held this weekend, concluding today with very competitive nail-biting final match-ups. Jamestown High School beat out Dallas High School from Dallas, PA, for the 2020 title; Webster County was victorious over the team from Central Academy of Technology and Arts in Monroe, NC. 

LifeSmarts is an education and scholarship program run by the Washington, DC-based National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization. It competitively tests high school students’ knowledge of consumer awareness, with subjects including personal finance, health and safety, consumer rights and responsibility, technology, and the environment. LifeSmarts is available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and in partnership programs with student leadership programs FBLA, 4H, and FCCLA. 

“We are so proud of these students from North Dakota and Kentucky, who represented their state programs with class and pride to take the championship,” said LifeSmarts Program Director Lisa Hertzberg. “They played hard and demonstrated their consumer smarts throughout the three-day event. They are true LifeSmarts champions.” 

Consumer-savvy teens representing 30 states, the District of Columbia, and 11 wild card teams, competed at the event. Throughout the 2020-2021 program year, more than 100,000 teens competed online for a chance to represent their states at the 2021 National LifeSmarts Championship. Players answered more than 3.5 million consumer questions in the online competition. 

The 2020 and 2021 National LifeSmarts Champions and other winning teams walked away with prizes and $50,000 in scholarships. 

2020 Winners
National Champions: Jamestown High School, Jamestown, North Dakota, coached by Marchel Krieger
2nd Place: Dallas High School, Dallas, Pennsylvania
3rd Place: Iola High School, Iola, Kansas and Barrington High School, Barrington, Rhode Island 

2021 Winners
National Champions: Webster County 4-H, Webster County, Kentucky, coached by Wade Raymer
2nd Place: Central Academy of Technology and ArtsMonroe, North Carolina
3rd Place: TWCA Club in Poolesville, Maryland and East Greenwich High School, East Greenwich, Rhode Island  

Teens from each of the nearly 60 champion teams represented at nationals competed as individuals, and the top five scorers received scholarships from NCL. This year’s winners were: 

2020 Individual Winners
Environment: Clement Hilty from Rhode Island
Personal Finance: Kareem Morsy from Pennsylvania
Health and Safety: Owen Sheff from Rhode Island
Consumer Rights and Responsibilities: Garret Wright from North Dakota
Technology and Workforce Preparation: Jarron Larson from North Dakota

2021 Individual Winners
Environment: Om Desai from Maryland
Personal Finance: Kylie Fung from California
Health and Safety: Rhett Huebner from Texas
Consumer Rights and Responsibilities: Wyles Gilfoil from Louisiana
Technology and Workforce Preparation: Yifan Zhao from California 

Of the Year Awards
Andrew Gryskewicz from Dallas High School in Dallas, PA, and Lily Martin from Webster County 4-H in Kentucky were named the 2020 and 2021 Students of the Year. Scott Neu (Wisconsin) and Sharon Rash (Oklahoma) were named LifeSmarts Coaches of the Year. 

Long-time State Coordinator Crystal Kraft, from North Dakota, earned the Coordinator of the Year honor. Kraft’s program was the only one in the country to hold an in-person state competition this year. 

The Sarah Weinberg Memorial Scholarship, given to students who demonstrate extraordinary commitment to community service, was awarded to Sophie Merka from Georgia. 

For team photos, event schedules, grid standings, and more, log on to https://lifesmarts.us2.pathable.com/ 

NCL thanks the sponsors who make the program possible including Amazon, Johnson & Johnson, Melaleuca, Toyota, American Express, Intuit, and the Washington State Employees Credit Union. 

All winners at the national LifeSmarts Competition received valuable prizes donated by sponsors to the National Consumers League, including scholarships, gift cards, and fun swag items. To learn more about the program, contact NCL’s Lisa Hertzberg at (202) 835-3323. 

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About the National Consumers League and LifeSmarts

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 www.nclnet.org.

LifeSmarts is a program of the National Consumers League. State coordinators run the programs on a volunteer basis. For more information, visit: www.LifeSmarts.org, email LifeSmarts@nclnet.org, or call the National Consumers League’s communications department at (202) 835-3323.

National Consumers League to host first-ever virtual National LifeSmarts Championship April 17-19

April 16, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org(412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org(202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—In celebration of Financial Literacy Month, the National Consumers League (NCL) has announced the nearly 60 champion teams who will gather this weekend to compete in the first-ever virtual National LifeSmarts Championship.

LifeSmarts (LifeSmarts.org), a consumer education competition that challenges teens in grades 9-12 about personal finance, health and safety, the environment, technology, and consumer rights and responsibilities, is a program of the National Consumers League (NCL). In LifeSmarts, students compete online and in-person at the local and state levels. Top-scorers progress to their state competitions, and then State Champion teams meet each April to compete in the National LifeSmarts Championship. In 2019, at the most recent National LifeSmarts Championship, Rhode Island’s Barrington High School took home the title.

A year ago, NCL was forced to cancel the 2020 national event due to the coronavirus pandemic, but 2020 State Champion and Wild Card teams are being welcomed back to compete in the rescheduled event, which will take place simultaneously online along with the 2021 program. In all, 33 teams will compete at the 2021 national event and 24 teams will compete for the 2020 title.

The 2020 and 2021 National LifeSmarts Champion teams will be crowned on Monday, April 19.

Complete roster of state champions teams listed below.

Consumer-savvy teens representing 30 states, the District of Columbia, and 11 Wild Card teams, will compete at this year’s event. Throughout the 2020-2021 program year, more than 100,000 teens competed online for a chance to represent their states at the 2021 National LifeSmarts Championship. Players answered more than 3.5 million consumer questions in the online competition.

“We are so proud of our 2020 and 2021 LifeSmarts champions, who have proven themselves to be the best and the brightest of the next generation of consumers,” said Lisa Hertzberg, National LifeSmarts Program Director. “For 27 years, LifeSmarts has been engaging and educating young consumers in a fun format and with a competitive approach. Our program goes in-depth on the issues kids—and young adults—are facing now as consumers and workers.”

The 2020 and 2021 National LifeSmarts Champions and other winning teams will walk away with prizes and $50,000 in scholarships. In addition to placing as a team, individual students have the opportunity to compete for scholarships by demonstrating knowledge in specific program topic areas. The top eight placing teams and top 10 individuals are recognized, as well as the recipients of specialized scholarships.

NCL thanks the sponsors who make the program possible including Amazon, Johnson & Johnson, Melaleuca, Toyota, American Express, Intuit, and the Washington State Employees Credit Union.

Event kickoff + competition and weekend activities
When: Saturday, April 17 at 1pm Eastern through Monday, April 19
Where: visit LifeSmarts.org for a link to the conference platform and more information about the program

2020 and 2021 National LifeSmarts Champions will be determined in matches taking place on Monday, April 19

Follow the competition online

Parents and supporters can follow the action at Facebook.com/LifeSmarts and via Twitter: #LifeSmartsNationals

2021 National LifeSmarts Championship Teams
Arizona—Altitude 6.0 – Flagstaff Home Educators
Arkansas—Bryant Hornets 4 – Bryant High School
California—Grizzlies2 – Los Osos High School
Connecticut—Crosby Bulldogs- Crosby High School
Florida—Leto Red – Leto High School
Georgia—Columbia County 4-H Senior Team
Hawaii—Waipahu High School
Idaho—Minidoka County 4-H Teen Association
Illinois—West Chicago Community High School
Kansas—Gardner Edgerton High School
Kentucky—Webster County 4-H
Louisiana—West Feliciana High School
Maryland—TWCA Club
Michigan—Fenton Accounting – Fenton High School
Minnesota—LCWM Blue, Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial
Missouri—BHS Falcons – Blair Oaks High School
New Jersey—Montgomery MFJC – Montgomery High School
North Carolina—CATA Cougars, Central Academy of Technology and Arts
North Dakota—Bottineau High School
Oklahoma—Tiger 2021 – Pryor High School
Pennsylvania—Cumberland Valley High School
Rhode Island—East Greenwich High School Avengers
Tennessee—Putnam County 4-H
Texas—Bartlett FCCLA – Bartlett High School
Virginia—Econoponax – Massaponax High School
Washington—Selah FCCLA – Selah High School
West Virginia—JMHS Marketing – John Marshall High School
Wisconsin—Belleville High School
4-H Wild Card 1—Gordon County 4-H, Georgia
FCCLA Wild Card—Muleshoe Mules – Muleshoe High School, Texas
4-H Wild Card 2—Madison County 4-H, Georgia
Varsity Wild Card 1—North East High School, Pennsylvania
FBLA Wild Card—West Carteret High School FBLA, North Carolina

2020 National LifeSmarts Championship Teams
Arizona—Altitude 5.0 – Flagstaff Home Educators
DC—McKinley Technology High School
Florida—Duval 4-H Diplomats
Georgia—Oconee County 4-H
Illinois—West Chicago Community High School
Kansas—Iola High School
Louisiana—West Feliciana High School
Minnesota—Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial
Missouri—Husker Varsity 1 – Lafayette County C-1 High School
North Carolina—North Carolina Leadership Academy
North Dakota—Jamestown High School
Oklahoma—Pryor High School
Pennsylvania—Dallas High School
Rhode Island—Barrington High School Blue
Texas—Biz-e-Teen – Midcities Montessori
Virginia—Econoponax – Massaponax High School
West Virginia—The Voluntolds – John Marshall High School
Wisconsin—Tomahawk High School
4-H Wild Card—Rockdale County 4-H, Georgia
FCCLA Wild Card—Niangua High School FCCLA, Missouri
Wild Card 1—Waipahu High School, Hawaii
Wild Card 2—Gwinnett County 4-H , Georgia
Wild Card 3—Sunrise Christian Academy, Kansas
Wild Card 4—4-H Y’all – WIT Home Educators, Virginia

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About the National Consumers League and LifeSmarts

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 www.nclnet.org.

LifeSmarts is a program of the National Consumers League. State coordinators run the programs on a volunteer basis. For more information, visit: www.LifeSmarts.org, email LifeSmarts@nclnet.org, or call the National Consumers League’s communications department at (202) 835-3323.

Protecting Nevadans from COVID-19 Scams: A Virtual Panel Event with NV Attorney General Aaron D. Ford and Fraud Experts

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC – This Thursday, October 22, the National Consumers League (NCL), America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, will host a virtual fireside chat with Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford and a panel of consumer protection experts on the growing threat of scams linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. The consumer watchdog organization aims to raise awareness in Nevada about the risk of COVID-19 related fraud and arm consumers with information they can use to spot and avoid these scams.

Since the pandemic began, NCL, which operates the website Fraud.org, has seen an uptick in complaints about a variety of scams preying on increasingly vulnerable, financially strapped, and fearful consumers. Scammers running phishing schemes, stimulus check fraud, unemployment benefits scams, and immigration scams have all been working overtime to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to defraud consumers. The experts at NCL have watched these scams emerge, forecast they will continue to increase, and are eager to work with AG Ford to get the word out about how Nevadans can protect themselves.

WHAT

Virtual “fireside chat” featuring Nevada AG Aaron D. Ford and NCL, followed by a panel discussion on resources and tips to avoid COVID-19 fraud and scams.

WHEN

Thursday, October 22, 2020
2:00 PM – 3:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time

WHO

Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford
John Breyault, Vice President, National Consumers League

State Senator Dallas Harris, Consumer Rights Attorney, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada
Maria Moore, State Director, AARP Nevada
Assemblyman Edgar Flores, Immigration, Family, and Personal Injury, Gonzalez & Flores Law

HOW TO WATCH

YouTube Live link will be provided following registration via Eventbrite.

*** Members of the media are welcome to attend but must RSVP to Carol McKay, National Consumers League, carolm@nclnet.org. If you are unable to attend, a recording of the interview and panel can be provided upon request after the event concludes ***

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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 www.nclnet.org.

Advice to get rid of that debt monkey on your back

Michelle Singletary award-winning Washington Post columnist discusses how consumers can manage debt and…

NCL statement on the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Sept. 21, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) joins the nation in mourning the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg’s pioneering career as an attorney fighting gender discrimination in the 1960s and 70s, challenging norms about what women in the workplace “could or could not do,” and as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice serves as an example to Americans. In her 27 years on the Court, Justice Ginsburg championed the rights of women’s reproductive freedom, the right to form a union, and to be protected from marketplace abuses and promoted affirmative action, environmental regulations, and reasonable restrictions on guns.

Dubbed “the Notorious RBG,” the Justice became an icon for young women across America as a small-in-stature but a towering voice for rights and protections for women and People of Color. She worked out daily with a personal trainer, lifting weights and stretching; she fought off five bouts of cancer.

Though she was the mother of feminist jurisprudence, she was not a rigid ideologue. During a mock court case of the 1908 Muller vs. Oregon event at the Supreme Court, over which she presided, Ginsburg noted that the litigants in the 100-year-old case—including NCL’s Florence Kelley and Boston lawyer Louis Brandeis—who argued that laws saying women could not be forced to work more than 60 hours a week were not sexist. Having the law apply to only women was their “entering wedge” and the only opportunity to set maximum hours laws, Justice Ginsburg noted. Men went on to gain the same protections during the next decade.

Justice Ginsburg could be seen welcoming visitors to the Court and was especially gracious to those being sworn into the Supreme Court bar, an honor available to any lawyer in good standing who has a Supreme Court bar member to introduce them at special sessions held Court.

The National Consumers League is deeply saddened by the loss of such a powerful force on the Supreme Court of the United States. Her sense of justice and her influence on the Court won’t easily be replicated.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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 www.nclnet.org.

LifeSmarts consumer literacy program launches 2020-21 season with new online learning, scholarship, and community service opportunities for teens

September 14, 2020

Millions of student leaders have gained real-world knowledge through the program’s quarter-century of education and competition

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—Today marks the official launch of the 2020-2021 season of LifeSmarts, a national scholarship competition and educational program for middle-school and high-school students that tests knowledge of real-life consumer issues and is helping to create a future generation of consumer-savvy adults. A new season of LifeSmarts goes live online at LifeSmarts.org today. LifeSmarts is a program of the National Consumers League, the nation’s pioneering consumer advocacy watchdog.

“We are very excited to launch this season of LifeSmarts,” said Program Director Lisa Hertzberg. “For more than a quarter century, LifeSmarts has given students the skills they need to succeed as adults. We’ve seen more than 1.5 million students gain knowledge, confidence, leadership capabilities, and team-building skills. The competition is fun, and the impact of LifeSmarts is life-long.”

Education certainly looks different across the country this year, and LifeSmarts has tools to help. “No matter what modality schools are using, LifeSmarts has resources for educators and parents to use during this unique time,” said Hertzberg. “Developing smart and successful citizens, workers, and consumers is always our mission, and we’re here to help students and educators meet the challenges imposed by COVID-19.”

LifeSmarts focuses on five main content areas:

  • consumer rights and responsibilities
  • personal finance
  • technology
  • health and safety
  • and the environment

Each year, LifeSmarts competitors answer more than 3.5 million consumer questions about credit reports, recycling, nutrition, social media, state lemon laws, and everything in between. Students are quizzed on their knowledge of these subject areas during online competition. Top-performing teams then advance to statewide competitions, and state champion teams as well as several wildcard teams advance to the national championship held each year in a different American city.

The 2021 National LifeSmarts Championship is scheduled to take place in Cincinnati, Ohio, April 21-24, 2021.  LifeSmarts will host State Champion and Wild Card teams from both the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 program years, celebrating winning students in a first-ever double competition. If COVID-19 makes that impossible, NCL will host a virtual event. Winning team members receive scholarships and other prizes.

In addition to online, state, and national competitions, LifeSmarts recognition and awards occur throughout the program year:

  • Teams of students vie for cash prizes in the online TeamSmarts quiz, which focuses on a specific LifeSmarts content area each month from September through February.
  • Classroom mentor program: Five $1,000 scholarships are awarded each winter to winning LifeSmarts students who become LifeSmarts OTC Medicine Safety Mentors to educate younger students and community members about medicine safety. LifeSmarts thanks Johnson & Johnson for underwriting this important community service project.
  • Partnering with FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), 4-H, and FCCLA (Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America), LifeSmarts complements these organizations’ projects, judging events, competitive events, and activities. LifeSmarts offers special opportunities for members of these student leadership organizations.

LifeSmarts is active in all states and the District of Columbia, where NCL is headquartered.

“We are proud of the impact LifeSmarts has made in its 26 years of educating teens, and we are excited to continue to grow the LifeSmarts program, to educate students about financial literacy, and to create a new generation of savvy, market-ready consumers and workers,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “Too often traditional high school curriculum fails to teach students vital information that will be crucial once students go to college, get their first job, or move out of their parents’ house.”

In addition to hosting the official LifeSmarts competition, LifeSmarts.org provides resources for educators to supplement existing lesson plans. These include daily quizzes, educational videos, social media competitions, focused study guides, and scholarship opportunities. LifeSmarts lessons closely align with courses taught in family and consumer sciences, business, technology, health, and vocational education. Math and English teachers have also had success with LifeSmarts, as have homeschool and community educators.

Additional major LifeSmarts contributors include: AARP, American Express, Intuit, Melaleuca, Underwriters Laboratories, and WSECU, along with a number of state and local sponsors.

Visit LifeSmarts.org for more information.

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About LifeSmarts

LifeSmarts is a program of the National Consumers League. State coordinators run the programs on a volunteer basis. For more information, visit: LifeSmarts.org, email lifesmarts@nclnet.org, or call the National Consumers League’s communications department at 202-835-3323.

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 www.nclnet.org.

Mail-in and absentee voting during COVID-19

By NCL Executive Assistant Adrienne Archer

The National Consumers League (NCL) wants consumers to know that voting by mail or absentee ballot during the COVID-19 pandemic is safe. Due to conflicting information being shared by the media, and federal, state and local governments, it can be difficult to determine how best to vote. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a voter should always focus on keeping themselves and their family safe and healthy. Whether voting by mail-in or absentee ballot, it’s important to have a plan. However, due to the variety of challenges posed by the pandemic, it might be difficult to keep up with the changes or updates to a state’s voting guidelines. Voters should contact their local elections office.

Many states and the District of Columbia have made it easier to vote early by mail or by absentee ballot. In the past, voters needed a reason why they couldn’t vote in person. National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) has resources for on state laws governing voting across the U.S. To know exactly when to vote in your state, contact your local elections office. USA.gov also offers information on the time frames for early or absentee voting.

All states will offer a form of mail-in voting and some states will make it more accessible to vote than others. Some states are still crafting legislation to make it easier for people to vote by mail or absentee ballot. The New York state legislature passed three bills allowing voters to request an absentee ballot or mail-in ballot because of COVID-19 fears. One of the bills allows for absentee ballots to be postmarked as late as election day and still be counted.

Government officials have noted possible instances of voter fraud. Some states have voiced concerns that mail-in ballots can easily be stolen, altered, or forged. Voters worry that they will not receive their ballot in time to vote. Congress is worried that the increase in mail will overwhelm the United States Postal Service (USPS) and delay the delivery of ballots. To add to the problems, the U.S. Postmaster General has made budget cuts to the USPS, dismantled machines, collected mailboxes, and reduced mail services causing consumers to worry that the USPS will not be able to process the increase in mail. Disability advocates want to ensure that mail-in voting will not be more difficult for voters with disabilities to exercise their right to vote.

Voting by mail is a safe option: it increases the overall voter response in the election. Even with these challenges to voting, military members and older Americans have been always encouraged to vote absentee. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided recommendations for people to handle mail-in ballots safely when they are received. In response to consumer requests, the USPS has created a website to help voters ensure that they can receive and return their ballot safely. Also, voters should remember that the main goal of voting during this pandemic is to safely cast their votes.

Americans voting from abroad, or in the military should be aware of the following: potential delays with sending and receiving mail, possible embassy closures due to COVID-19, and ensuring that their personal address is updated with his or her state. Americans abroad should request a ballot immediately from the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s website and check with their local U.S. polling place for instructions on receiving and returning the ballot. Most states permit Americans abroad to request a ballot via email with the caveat that a completed ballot should be returned by well before the November 3rd deadline via postal mail. Under Federal law, ballots should be requested by overseas military voters by September 19th (at least 45 days before the election). The Military Postal Agency has a list of recommended mailing dates. After individuals have returned their ballot, they should be sure to contact their local elections office to ensure that their ballot was received or if they have any questions.

Voting by mail has always been a good way to ensure access to those with disabilities. The American Civil Liberties Union has guidelines to improve accessibility to persons with disabilities. They suggest voters with a disability should receive ballots electronically so they can vote from the safety of their homes. Voters could indicate their candidate on the ballot by using accessibility features on his or her device. Then the ballot should be printed and mailed to his or her local polling place. Some states require witnesses or notarization on the ballot envelope. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wants to dispense with this requirement. Election poll workers should receive training on accessible voting options and how to respectfully interact with voters with a disability. Lastly, every state should raise awareness about accessible voting options.

In summary, to effectively vote by mail or absentee ballot during the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Consumers League suggests these steps:

  1. Create a plan for voting by mail or via absentee ballot.
  2. Check your local polling office to ensure that it has your correct mailing address and you are eligible to vote in the upcoming election.
  3. Request your absentee or mail-in ballot NOW, well before the deadline of October 3rd (45 days before the election) from your local polling office.
  4. If voting from abroad or in the military, allow for extra time to request and receive your ballot.
  5. If you have a disability, every state has in place accommodations so you may vote safely and effectively. If you have questions, please contact your local polling place early so they may be resolved.
  6. When you get your ballot, review the instructions for completing and returning it. If you have questions, contact your local polling office for guidance.
  7. Mail-in your ballot immediately, in advance of your state’s deadline, allowing for time for it to be reviewed and counted.

Above all, vote, vote, vote!

‘Should I stay or should I go?’ How the pandemic has affected higher education

By NCL Health Policy intern Talia Zitner

Every morning, I wake up with a new decision to make. Am I going back to campus? Or am I spending the Fall semester taking online classes from the comfort of my childhood bedroom? I’m a rising sophomore at Wesleyan University, and to add insult to injury, I’m also an incoming transfer student. My internal debate about going back to school is near-constant, and despite weighing the pros and cons of each, I still can’t seem to come to a comfortable conclusion.

Around the country, colleges and students are faced with this same, nearly impossible challenge. If schools can’t or won’t open in the fall, they risk closing forever without tuition money. If they do allow students to come back to campus, and an outbreak occurs, they put students, professors, faculty, staff, their families, and the greater community at risk. Students rely on colleges to be their home away from home, a place where they can work and learn in a structured, safe, and healthy environment, not to mention the social benefits.

Consequently, coming back to campus poses a serious financial and ethical question. Like anything else, college and higher education is a business. Consumers want to get the most for their money, and the colleges and universities need consumers to engage to have a sustainable business model. The pandemic has shifted the conversation in many areas of life, higher education included.

This issue is especially complicated because it can be broken down from multiple perspectives. For example, an economic point of view argues that colleges are only re-opening because they need the money. Like many other businesses, they stay open because they have no other choice. Without the money generated through tuition and other forms of revenue like donation and state funding, it would take years for schools to recover from the impact of COVID. But college is a substantial investment for families. Why should consumers be expected to pay full (or reduced) tuition for an experience that is more like a monastery than college? Will the investment really be worth it if schools are simply shut down again because of an outbreak at a campus party?

On the other hand, if students aren’t in school come fall semester, what else would they be doing? Most students are hard-pressed to find a job or internship that’s worth taking a semester off for in this environment. And time off may push back a student’s graduation time, putting them behind the rest of their peers. For very legitimate reasons, students want to come to campus and keep their college experience intact.

This seems to be where my own expectations fall. I have no idea if the situation will improve between now and the spring semester. To me, the only course of action is to enjoy the experience that I will have, even if it means wearing a mask.

Talia is a Washington, DC native and a rising sophomore at Wesleyan University, where she is studying English. Beyond health policy, Talia’s interests are in journalism, law, and social justice.

Understand the opioid epidemic and protect yourselves and loved ones

Knowing the rights, risks and responsibilities of prescription opioid use is an important first step to addressing the opioid epidemic. Whether you are taking medication to treat pain, or have friends or family members who have been prescribed opioids, knowing the facts can help prevent misuse before it occurs.

NCL recently partnered with the Allied Against Opioid Abuse (AAOA) to create a new batch of resources to help educate consumers about prescription opioid safety. The new Consumer Toolkit includes educational materials to help reinforce the need for patients, caregivers, parents, and others to understand their rights, risks, and responsibilities associated with prescription opioid use.

Prescription opioids are medications prescribed by healthcare providers to treat moderate to severe pain for health conditions that cause ongoing discomfort as well as for pain following surgery or injury. Common prescription opioids include:

  • Oxycodone
  • Morphine
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxymorphone
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl

If you are not sure if your medicine is an opioid, check your prescription labels to look for generic names. The National Safety Council also provides a helpful chart of medicines that contain opioids. You should always ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you are not able to find the name or have questions.

Watch for risk factors associated with prescription opioids, including:

  • Mixing opioids with other medications, drugs, nutritional supplements or alcohol
  • Taking more than prescribed
  • Taking a high daily dose of opioids
  • Certain conditions such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV, sleep apnea, or liver or lung disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Older age
  • Family history of substance abuse

Let your doctor know if you or your loved ones have any of these risk factors before filling any opioid prescription.

“Opioid misuse often starts in the home, so safe storage and disposal are key to prevention,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of NCL. “Make sure that prescription opioids are stored securely and remember to properly dispose of all unused prescription opioids as soon as possible.”

AAOA offers a safe disposal locator for you to find a place to safety get rid of your unused medications. Find details on safe disposal options here.