National Consumers League statement in support of HR 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act

For immediate release: February 18, 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—The National Consumers League (NCL) is proud to join hundreds of like-minded groups in supporting HR 40, which would create a commission to study and develop reparations proposals for African Americans. The House Judiciary Committee hearing on HR 40 on February 17, 2021 gave witnesses the opportunity to talk about the reason for and impact of reparations. The hearing also included several witnesses who oppose the concept of reparations.

Introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), HR 40 would create a commission to identify: (1) the role of the federal and state governments in supporting the institution of slavery, (2) forms of discrimination in the public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants, and (3) lingering negative effects of slavery on living African-Americans and society.

This statement is attributable to NCL Board Chair Dominique Warren:

America has never reckoned with its 400 years of enslavement of 12 million Africans, brought to our shores shackled in fetid ships where huge numbers died of disease. As Michelle Singletary, Washington Post columnist has observed, reparations are not handouts, they are redress.

Beginning in 1619, enslaved people were brought to America and sold by those who profited from the slave trade, bought by plantation owners, farmers, businesses, and households, separated from siblings, parents, spouses and children and forced to work for free. After the Civil War, many freed slaves purchased land, only to see it stolen. Prosperous Black towns were looted and burned. Blacks have been beaten and murdered, many lynched on false allegations of criminal conduct  because of their race. Throughout America’s history, Blacks have been denied the right to vote and redlined from living in certain neighborhoods. Black Americans were and still are discriminated against in the workplace and prevented from earning fair and equal pay.

A new book on reparations, “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century,” recommends a number of possible compensation programs, including the establishment of a trust that could make grants to eligible Blacks to help start a business or buy a home.

NCL agrees with these recommendations, made by authors William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen, that “the U.S. government, as the federal authority, bears responsibility for sanctioning, maintaining, and enabling slavery, legal segregation, and continued racial inequality.”

America has benefited from the institution of slavery. Segregation and voter suppression has given advantages to White Americans in the form of cheap Black labor, reduced employment competition, and the power to elect politicians who enacted laws that worked in the best interest of Whites and against equal opportunities for Black people.

Redress is part of the American justice system, indeed part of the international justice system. The federal government issued an apology and cash reparations to Japanese Americans who were interned in camps during World War II.  Germany paid reparations to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

Studying reparations for African Americans as one approach to redress by setting up a Commission to thoroughly study the cost of slavery, Jim Crow policies that followed it, and the ongoing discrimination against black Americans would truly begin the national discussion and the reconciliation and healing that needs to take place. The National Consumers League strongly supports HR 40 and urges its swift passage by members of Congress.

###
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.

National Consumers League supports the FAIR Act to end forced arbitration

For immediate release: February 17, 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—NCL is pleased to support the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act (FAIR Act), a bill to re-establish Americans’ 7th Amendment right to seek justice and accountability through the court system. NCL applauds Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) for introducing this critically important consumer and worker protection legislation as well as the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law of the House Judiciary Committee for holding its February 11 hearing on the bill.

The bill previously passed the House of Representatives during the 116th Congress on Sept. 20, 2019 by a strong bipartisan vote of 225 to 186. The FAIR Act (H.R. 963) would eliminate forced arbitration clauses in employment, consumer, and civil rights cases and would allow consumers and workers to agree to arbitration after a dispute occurs. The House bill has 155 cosponsors.

This statement is attributable to NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg:

Forced arbitration is a glaring marketplace injustice that undermines key worker and consumer protections. Thanks to a series of unfortunate Supreme Court decisions, forced arbitration clauses are ubiquitous throughout the marketplace. Thus, it falls to Congress to correct this injustice. Arbitration clauses are buried in the fine print of consumer and employment contracts for everything from cell phones, credit cards, cable service, nursing homes, employment, bank loans, student loans, apartment leases, and video subscriptions. Their practical effect is to block consumers’ and workers’ right to go to court. The actual arbitration process is fraught with problems; everything can be done in secret and without public rulings. Discovery is limited, and there is no meaningful judicial review, so consumers and employees are often unable to appeal a decision even if the arbitrator gets it wrong. Corporations can also choose where the arbitration will take place, what the rules will be, and how the costs will be borne.

Simply put, arbitration lacks the safeguards of a fair, impartial, and accessible court proceeding to protect people and hold accountable corporations that have committed widespread abuses, or marketed unsafe products or services.

As the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said about the Supreme Court’s rulings on forced arbitration, they ‘have predictably resulted in the deprivation of consumers’ rights to seek redress for losses, and turning the coin, they have insulated powerful economic interests from liability for violations of consumer protection laws.’

Congress never intended this. The Federal Arbitration Act was enacted in 1925 to give businesses — with relatively equal bargaining power — options for resolving their business disputes.

The FAIR Act would even the playing field. Contrary to industry arguments, it would not ‘ban’ arbitration; instead, it would stop forced arbitration from being imposed as a precondition for obtaining a product, or for obtaining or continuing service or employment, and closing off access to the courts for consumer law claims, employment law claims, civil rights claims, and antitrust claims by small businesses. Once a dispute actually arises and the stakes are clear, consumers, workers, or small businesses could freely choose arbitration, if they determine it to be a better option for them than the courts.

NCL encourages all members of Congress to support the FAIR Act; it is pro-worker, pro-consumer, and pro-small business legislation and helps to bring fairness to the marketplace and restore the basic American right to our day in court.

###
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.

Women’s sexual health shouldn’t be tabo‪o‬

It’s 2021, can we speak frankly about women’s sexual health yet?

National Consumers League welcomes appointment of Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel as Acting Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission

For immediate release: January 29, 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—The National Consumers League (NCL), America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, welcomes the appointment of Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to serve as acting chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Rosenworcel is the second woman to lead the agency in its 86-year history.

The following statement is attributable to NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg:

We welcome Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel’s appointment as Acting Chairwoman of the FCC. Her years of service at the Commission and on Capitol Hill make her an ideal choice for this position. She brings an in-depth understanding of the Commission, its committed and talented staff, and the agency’s relationship with Congress.

Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel is a strong proponent of consumer protections, net neutrality, and universal access to high speed broadband. Her appointment couldn’t  come at a better time; the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the chasm of access to high quality broadband in so many communities across America. Most critically, millions of students without affordable broadband access have suffered as schools have moved online during the past year. NCL is committed to working with Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel and her team to address this critical problem.

We are honored that Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel accepted NCL’s Trumpeter Award for consumer leadership in 2020. We welcome this strong consumer advocate who has always kept an open door for consumers from all backgrounds to discuss their concerns with the commission. We look forward to continuing to work with her and the talented FCC staff.

###
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.

The National Consumers League welcomes the appointment of consumer advocate and FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

For immediate release: January 29, 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—The National Consumers League welcomes President Biden’s nomination of Rohit Chopra, a current commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), to chair the  Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

This following statement is attributable to Executive Director Sally Greenberg:

We are very pleased by President Biden’s nomination of Rohit Chopra to serve as director of the CFPB. At the FTC, Commissioner Chopra has proven to be a fair, thoughtful, and even-handed regulator with a strong record of defending the interests of consumers and pressing the agency to uphold its mandate by doing more to fight fraud and combat unfair and deceptive practices.

Chopra was on the ground floor as the CFPB was built. He was one of the first hires by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) when she took on the role as director of the—then—brand new agency. He brings a wealth of experience in the work of federal agencies, having also acted as special advisor at the U.S. Department of Education.

Despite his busy schedule, Commissioner Chopra always had an open door to hear from advocates and everyday consumers. When it comes to fighting abusive debt collection practices, crushing student loan debt, predatory payday loan companies, and auto lenders that discriminate against black, brown, and immigrant communities, consumers will have no greater champion than Rohit Chopra.

We urge the Senate to promptly confirm Commissioner Chopra so that he and his team can get started on the critically important mission of protecting the interests of the nation’s consumers.”

###
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.

Welcoming FDA’s call for better science, more research on CBD

In 2019, in response to the growing retail market of untested, unapproved cannabidiol (CBD) products, NCL identified the need for greater consumer education and increased regulation at the federal level. NCL and its partners — Consumer Federation of America and the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America — created Consumers for Safe CBD to help raise awareness of the unregulated CBD marketplace, champion the rights of consumers, and call on government and industry to do more to protect consumers. This year, we will continue to work with key stakeholders to encourage safe CBD food and beverage products and promote a pathway for new therapeutic products through clinically-tested scientific research.

We’ve come a long way since our launch, and FDA is making progress. Newly former FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn and Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy recently called for better science, more data, and increased testing to determine the risks and benefits associated with CBD. We are encouraged by the commitments outlined in the FDA statement and look forward to continued collaboration with the Biden Administration and the new leadership at the agency to make the CBD marketplace fair, safe, and healthy for consumers.

Read more about the FDA’s comments on the Consumers for Safe CBD here and sign up for CBD updates from our Consumers for Safe CBD campaign here.

NCL congratulates President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris

For immediate release: January 7, 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–On behalf of the Board of Directors and staff of the National Consumers League, America’s pioneering consumer organization founded in 1899, we wish to extend warm congratulations to our next President of the United States, Joe Biden and incoming Vice President Kamala Harris. As consumer and worker advocates, we look forward to building a strong relationship with the Biden-Harris Administration to advance the issues of democracy, which go hand-in-hand with consumer and worker protections. Among the top priorities on NCL’s agenda: enacting a $15 federal minimum wage and comprehensive privacy and data security laws; strengthening consumer protections regulations throughout the federal agencies; fighting fraud by enhancing consumer protections in financial transactions; restoring consumer protections to the flying public and American travelers; combatting predatory financial practices; and reducing the barriers facing all consumers seeking to gain access to the civil justice system.

Congratulations once again to President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their election to the two highest offices in the land.

###

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.

Jeanette Contreras portrait

2021 rings in new health care protections for consumers

By NCL Director of Health Policy Jeanette Contreras

Surprise medical bills occur when patients unknowingly receive care from a provider who is not in their health insurance plan’s network. As the first COVID-19 vaccinations are administered, Congress has passed landmark legislation to ensure consumers needn’t worry about surprise medical bills from emergency medical services.

The passage of this legislation couldn’t come soon enough, as more than 476,000 Americans hospitalized with the coronavirus have already incurred exorbitant medical debt from COVID-19 treatment. Now, thankfully, 2020 will come to a close with renewed optimism in the American health care system.

This new law will also protect consumers from surprise billing from out-of-network ambulance and air ambulance trips, which can amount to tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. Most patients are conscientious consumers, careful to find a doctor that accepts their insurance before making an appointment. However, in the case of an emergency, a patient faces the possibility of receiving care from an out-of-network doctor in an out-of-network hospital.

As Congress debated legislative fixes to surprise billing, the Administration showed political will toward finding a solution with the issuance of Executive Order 13877, Improving Price and Quality Transparency in American Healthcare to Put Patients First, which includes principles on surprise billing. In a July 2020 report addressing surprise billing, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) further urged Congress to act, recognizing that 41 percent of insured adults nationwide were surprised by a medical bill in the past two years.

Following Executive Order 13877, HHS finalized a set of regulations to address price transparency for consumers. The first rule set to take effect on January 1, 2021, requires hospitals to publicly list standard charges for the items and services that they provide. The second rule, set to take effect in 2022, demands similar transparency from most health plans and issuers of health insurance coverage. These regulations offer consumers more control over their health care spending and better information as they shop and compare health coverage options for themselves and their families.

The new HHS regulations, coupled with the surprise billing legislation, amount to the greatest consumer protections in America’s health care system since the Affordable Care Act. Consumers with health insurance should not have to worry about surprise medical bills—especially during a pandemic. The health care system will be a little more consumer-friendly in 2021, which is good news for all of us.

Is your honey real?

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Honey is one of my favorite sweeteners. And I’m not alone. The global demand for honey is extremely high with the market size value in 2020 at 9.79 billion. But are we buying the authentic thing?

This high demand has resulted in market fraud and adulteration. Insider has stated that honey is the third-most-faked food in the world behind milk and olive oil. Assessing the quality of honey can be difficult because of the production process or adulteration with cane sugar or other ingredients.

In the United States, 400 million pounds of honey ends up in our food every year. Most of it is adulterated product from China. Manufacturers either dilute real honey by adding syrups derived from plants or they chemically modify the sugars in those syrups so they look like real honey. Honey consumers in the U.S., and across the globe, are being duped and need to be made more aware of how to tell if the honey they purchased is real or fake.

Here are several ways to spot fakes:

  1. Crystallization – real honey crystallizes over a period of time once kept in a cool dark place. Adulterated honey will always retain the same consistency.
  2. Water test – drop a teaspoon of honey in water. If the honey is pure, it will not easily mix with water but will become slightly thicker in texture.
  3. Microwave test/heat test – place a bowl of honey in the microwave and heat it for a minute. If it caramelizes, then it is real honey. If it bubbles, it is not.
  4. Paper test – put 2 teaspoons of honey on a plate and put paper on it. If the paper soaks the honey, then it is adulterated.

As the demand for honey increases, one would expect that the price of honey would increase. However, the opposite has occurred since the supply of adulterated honey has increased and driven global honey prices down. This has resulted in beekeepers barely being able to sell their honey for a profit.

Another major issue that adulterated honey causes is the threat to pollination and our food systems. Vice highlights that bees help produce 90 commercially-grown crops in the U.S. and have brought in over $24 billion to the economy. Without beekeepers, we would have a failed food system.

Consumers should seek out raw, organic, unadulterated honey that will not have negative impacts on our beekeepers, our crop, and our economy. If you buy a plant-based burger, you would like to know the nutritional value and ingredients of the product and it should be the same for honey or any product that we consume.

I would recommend that each consumer watch the Netflix documentary Rotten. The episode called “Lawyers, Guns and Honey” shows the reasons behind low production of authentic honey and the impact of the dwindling bee population on our environment.

For patients’ safety, it’s time Congress updated rules governing the $10 billion contact lens industry

Contact lenses have come a long way since they were first introduced around 70 years ago.  Today, roughly 45 million Americans rely on them for safe, affordable vision correction each year.  But along the way, federal regulation of the contact lens market has not kept pace with the changing way Americans purchase and rely on these medical devices.  The result is that thousands of American consumers are at risk each year of adverse eye health outcomes including keratitis, corneal scarring, corneal ulcers, and infection.

Under federal law, online contact lens retailers do not require patients to provide their prescriptions before ordering contact lenses.  Patients can simply tell the retailer the lenses the doctor prescribed for them and the retailer then must verify the prescription with the prescribing doctor.  As required by the Federal Trade Commission’s Contact Lens Rule (“Rule”), contact lens-prescribing doctors have eight hours to respond to an online sellers’ verification communication before the contact lenses are sent to patients. If they don’t respond, the online contact lens seller can ship the products, regardless of the fact that prescription accuracy hasn’t yet been verified. Since the Rule was implemented in the mid-1990s, before the adoption of email, many sellers used automated telephone calls, or so-called “robocalls,” to fulfill the verification requirement of the Rule.

These automated robocalls use computer-generated voices.  They are often inaudible.  They frequently contain incomplete patient information, and, in practice, these robocalls are sent via computer at all hours of the day and night without noting any call back number to correct errors. This cumbersome process makes it nearly impossible for eye doctors to properly verify contact lens prescriptions.  In fact, this prescription verification system can lead to the shipment of incorrect contact lenses to patients with potentially dangerous consequences for patient vision health and safety.

As many consumers can attest from being bombarded with marketing robocalls, making sense of them is a nightmare. Using robocalls to verify important patient information, for the reasons previously outlined, is unsafe.

Current technology is capable of far better than this robocall system, especially due to the various forms of electronic communication we use today. These technologies can produce receipts, notify consumers of product shipments, and share product alerts and updates. Electronic communication is far more reliable and effective because it’s inexpensive, easy to understand, accessible.  It also creates a verifiable paper trail.  Therefore, we believe sellers of contact lenses should be required to use email or other forms of electronic communication, not automated robocalls, to keep consumers safe.

The FTC’s revised Contact Lens Rule also adds a cumbersome paperwork requirement that consumers and eye doctors need to complete at the end of a contact lens exam and fitting. Under this rule, prescribers must collect and store a so-called signed acknowledgment form in which a patient verifies that they received a copy of their prescription, as is already required under federal law.

That’s all well and good, but we believe a far better system to inform contact lens patients of their rights would be to require prescribers to post a sign in their offices, which is clear and conspicuous, noting that patients have a right to a copy of their contact lens prescription at the completion of their contact lens fitting. This type of posted signage is already mandatory in California, seems to be working well there, and we think it should be emulated on the federal level.

That’s a better solution because like many other forms consumers and patients are asked to sign, consumers probably won’t take time to read the form and thus won’t understand what they are signing; this is an ineffective exercise, in our view, and will result in more paperwork without necessarily ensuring patients have access to their prescriptions as the law intends.

In short, it’s time for Congress to update the rules governing this important, $10 billion industry.  It should start by requiring the use of the latest technologies—not robocalls—to get consumers the information they need about their eye prescriptions and that those prescriptions are verified as accurate by their eye professionals.