Water shut-offs across the country threaten our health and safety during pandemics

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

We all depend on running water to maintain good hygiene. Yet, as America grapples with the worst pandemic in several generations, unemployment is causing people to fall behind on essential utilities, like their water bill.

Consumer Reports notes that millions of Americans are at risk of losing running water. Two-fifths of the country relies on water utilities that have not put in place a policy of suspending shutoff for nonpayment during COVID-19. This is due to a confluence of related factors—institutional racism, environmental injustice, and poverty—which means communities that are most vulnerable to COVID-19 are also being the most adversely impacted by water shutoffs. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. How can you do so without running water?

According to NBC News, more than 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past five weeks due to COVID-19. And in Michigan, 23.8 percent of residents have filed for unemployment since March 14, the third-highest number in the country. To add to their woes, Detroit residents that fall behind on waters by as little as $150 are being faced with water shut off. At the start of the pandemic, 2,800 homes were estimated to be without water. Those numbers will soar if action isn’t taken to protect those who can’t pay their water bills. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order that reconnected shut off water service and started a $2 million grant program to help communities comply with the order, according to ECO Watch.

On the national level, no similar grant program has yet been introduced. The third rescue package included $1.5 billion to assist low-income households with water bills during the crisis, with a condition that required localities and utilities to suspend shutoffs to quality for financial aid. But the clauses were left out of the final bill approved by the Senate. There is some sign of political will with congressional Democrats wanting $12 billion for water subsidies in the fourth rescue package, with grants for utilities conditional on shutoff moratoriums, according to Consumer Reports.

Michigan also has one of the highest water rates in the country. Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Erik Olson points out that Coca Cola and Pepsi get months to pay their water bills and then turn around and sell bottled water at 100 times the cost of tap water. Consumer Reports found that most bottled water sold in the United States comes from the same source and just goes through a purification process before being sold to the consumer.

For those not facing utility shutoffs, Consumers Reports confirms that there is no shortage of safe drinking water and health officials–assuring us that the public water supplies are not contaminated by the Coronavirus–are prohibiting hoarding of bottled water. The bottom line is that running water is part of the solution to beating this pandemic. No one should lose access to water if we truly want to flatten the curve and move beyond COVID-19.

COVID-19 shows us the extraordinary importance of vaccines

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

What a bittersweet moment for advocates like NCL fighting off the lies and falsehoods spread by the anti-vaccine movement, as we start to see some anti-vaxxers changing their tune while still others continue to hold firm to their dangerously misinformed views. The reality is that a vaccine to fight COVID-19 would have prevented the global devastation caused by this disease and prevented the loss of nearly 60,000 lives and 27 million jobs nationwide.

Over the past decade, NCL has become a champion of vaccines and their extraordinary power to protect humans around the globe safely and effectively from many deadly diseases. Illnesses such as polio, tetanus, measles, smallpox, flu, mumps, measles, tuberculosis, human papillomavirus (HPV), that have maimed and killed billions of people, have ebbed or been eradicated, thanks to vaccines.

As a commitment to our advocacy, NCL has twice testified before the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) in support of the meningitis B and pneumonia vaccine (PCV-13). In our testimonies, NCL called for universal vaccination for children and adults, reaffirming vaccines as one of the greatest gifts modern medicine has provided to the human race.

Our comments also challenged the outrageous falsehoods spread by the small but vocal anti-vaccine movement. Their claims of vaccines causing autism have been debunked over and over, yet their power to scare parents lives on.

I grew up with an uncle who contracted polio a year before the vaccine was introduced. His illness was utterly devastating. Having a quadriplegic member of the family meant that from a very young age I developed an appreciation for vaccines and was comforted in knowing that I didn’t have to worry as my grandparents did about losing my son to a terrible disease.

Now Americans wait anxiously for labs and drug companies to develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. This could take many months due to our remarkably high standards of safety and efficacy. I certainly hope this calamitous COVID-19 outbreak will be the death knell of the anti-vaccine movement. Sadly, I fear it will not.

COVID-19, what could it cost you?

Nissa Shaffi

By Nissa Shaffi, NCL Associate Director of Health Policy

As the nation continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, another top-of-mind concern is the cost associated with both testing and treatment for the illness. Between the boldness of certain state officials relaxing restrictions and the rapid ascension of cases, exposure to COVID-19 will inevitably rise.

The reassuring news is that the majority of Americans diagnosed will be able to recover from home. But what if you’re among the 15 percent that will need hospitalization? This subset of the population will require the most acute care, including admission into an intensive care unit and use of a ventilator. Between testing and treatment, there are a lot of factors for the consumer and patient to consider—outright costs of care, as well as cost-sharing (co-pays, deductibles, out-of-network costs, and more)—we did some of the research below.

Testing

  • Affordable Care Act (ACA)-compliant Plans: Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, all comprehensive health plans (individual, employer-sponsored, or ACA marketplace plans), must cover testing for COVID-19 at 100 percent.
  • Medicare & Medicaid: Testing is covered at 100 percent for Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Uninsured: Testing will be covered at 100 percent by Medicaid, as mandated by the CARES Act.
  • Non-ACA-Compliant Plans: Testing coverage may vary for consumers with non-ACA-compliant plans (i.e., short-term plans), as these plans are not subject to the protections found in the ACA.

Apart from non-ACA plans, there’s testing done in an emergency room, urgent care, or physician’s office, and all that should be covered. In addition, the health plan cannot impose prior authorization or cost-sharing restrictions (i.e., copays, deductibles, coinsurance) on the patient. Of course, access to testing is currently limited to those with symptoms or those working in health care facilities or other consumer-facing businesses. There are still strict criteria established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).[1]

Treatment

Newly passed emergency bills do not address coverage of treatment. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 treatment for someone insured on an employer-based health plan could run upwards of $10,000, provided that there are no complications. For patients that require more acute care, costs could reach $20,000.

ACA-Compliant Plans: Health plans are not required to fully cover the cost of positive tests. A majority of the treatments for COVID-19 under ACA-compliant plans will qualify as essential health benefits, and as such will be covered. However, every state defines its own criteria for essential health benefits, and it is possible that some treatments will not be covered, based on where you live. Furthermore, coverage may vary depending on the type of group health plan you have (large vs. small).

Cost-sharing will also likely be imposed. Marketplace plans are required to cap maximum out-of-pocket costs for services covered in-network. In 2020, the maximum out-of-pocket cap is $8,150, meaning that if your care is deemed medically necessary, your out-of-pocket costs should not exceed that amount. Some plans have offered to cover patient-cost sharing for out-of-network care for COVID-19 in the absence of in-network availability. As an emergency course of action, several health plans have waived out-of-pocket costs like copays and coinsurance associated with treatment for COVID-19. To see where your health plan stands, click here.

Medicare and Medicaid: Medicare Part A (hospital stays) and Part B (doctor’s visits) will continue to charge copays and deductibles. The deductible for a 60-day hospital stay under Part A is $1,408. For Part B, the annual deductible is approximately $200. Cost-sharing related to Medicare Advantage and Medicaid plans will depend on your individual plan.

Uninsured: The Trump Administration has announced that part of the $100 billion of the $2 trillion appropriated for COVID-19-related relief in the CARES Act will be dedicated to reimbursing providers who treat uninsured patients. Provisions within the law include treatment for primary diagnosis of COVID-19 in a variety of settings, both emergency and non-emergency transportation, and post-acute care. Services that will be excluded from coverage include hospice and outpatient prescription drugs.

While further guidance is pending, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has clarified the following: “as a condition of receiving funds under this program, providers will be forbidden from balance billing the uninsured for the cost of their care.” This caveat reinforces that providers would get reimbursed at Medicare rates for delivery of uncompensated care and cannot balance bill the difference between Medicare reimbursement and the hospital’s charges.

In addition to the above, the law prohibits hospitals from charging patients beyond what they would pay in-network or what Medicare pays. The mandate against surprise billing serves to protect patients covered by government programs, employer-based plans, and self-purchased insurance.

Also, the growing loss of employer-based health coverage has prompted several states to extend their special enrollment periods to accommodate newly unemployed/uninsured patients during the pandemic. To see if you qualify for a special enrollment period, click here.

Non-ACA-Compliant Plans: Off-marketplace plans are not regulated by the ACA, and this could affect coverage for COVID-19-related treatment, where there is a possibility that treatment may not be covered outright. Examples of non-ACA plans include short-term health, fixed indemnity, and critical illness plans. These plans do not qualify for minimum essential coverage and are insufficient on their own, in our view.

Understanding insurance benefits can be daunting under ideal circumstances, let alone during a global health crisis. Consumers need enhanced accessibility and coverage now more than ever and NCL commends health plans for acting promptly to waive various cost-sharing measures. NCL urges Congress to continue to fortify and provide clear guidance for consumer protections, to ensure that they are not left stranded without vital care. Consumers, please know that there are COVID-19-related resources available to you—for more information, click here.

[1] To find a drive-thru testing site near you, click here.

A few out-of-the-box consumer tips for staying safe from coronavirus

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

At the National Consumers League, we’re all about protecting consumers during this terrible coronavirus pandemic. Most of us understand that we need to social distance, work from home if possible, wear masks when going out—especially on trips to the grocery or drug store—and not gather in groups larger than 10.

Yesterday, I had a conversation with my doctor to hear what she is telling patients about testing kit availability for both the virus and antibodies test, and to hear what other advice she is giving. She told me some things I’d like to pass along:

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) relaxed requirements for developing COVID-19 tests and as a result, there are many kits to test for antibodies available for sale but very few—4 to date—have been approved by the FDA as high-quality and accurate. Consumers, don’t waste your money on phony or inaccurate tests.
  • Neither she nor any doctor she knows has access to the high-quality antibody tests. The good news is that there is plenty of capacity for testing people with COVID-19 symptoms. That was not always the case, so it’s a hopeful sign that there will be high-quality antibody tests available when the industry really ramps up.
  • For those who’ve had COVID-19 and recovered, the presence of antibodies alone is not sufficient. The best tests will show the level of antibody protection and whether those levels meet the threshold to protect us from contracting the disease.
  • Contact tracing is critical to curb this illness. My doc has traveled throughout the world and lived abroad for periods of time. She says without contact tracing we cannot hope to contain the disease. Former Peace Corp workers and health care providers who have worked around the world have this down to a science. Anyone who has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 has to go into quarantine for 14 days. My doc says that USAID has been doing this for many years when there’s an outbreak and it’s critical to containing the disease.

Until the appropriate infrastructure to test and contact trace for COVID-19 is established, my doctor suggested the following:

  • She recommends taking extra Vitamin C, extra Vitamin D, and Zinc. As a result, I’m taking two multivitamins each day based on the level of those three she is recommending.
  • She recommends getting some sun for at least 30 minutes a day to boost your immune system. Hopefully, most consumers are in climates that provide access to sunshine and can get outside. We know that is hard for people in apartment buildings or who have disabilities or live alone and don’t have support.
  • Finally, don’t assume you’ve been exposed and have antibodies just because you haven’t gotten sick. Until we have a vaccine, along with robust testing and contact tracing in place, we must continue to social distance.

 

Nation’s pioneering consumer-worker organization demands massive COVID-19 testing production, universal testing

April 23, 2020

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), the nation’s oldest consumer and worker advocacy organization, is demanding that the federal government put its support behind massive COVID-19 test production and, as quickly as is feasible, put in place a testing protocol for every citizen so that America can get back to work.

“There are calls across the country to reopen businesses; we understand and share that frustration,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “However, as we are currently not allowing tests for people who are asymptomatic—and because 25 percent of people who carry the virus don’t show symptoms—doing so would be reckless. It’s a Catch-22. Until everyone is tested, we can’t send symptom-free people back into the world. So the government’s first order of business must include giving America’s labs and drug companies the goal and the means to produce rapid-response testing for every American within the next month.”

NCL has laid out the following recommendations:

Meet the need for testing in clinics and doctors’ offices

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must oversee the process of improving techniques and reliable, accurate test production. Many labs are working on this, addressing the immediate need for care providers to have enough, high-quality tests.

“The Senate has voted to include $25 billion for the clinical labs that make the tests in the next COVID legislative package” said Greenberg. “That is welcome news because states cannot do this alone; they end up competing against each other for tests and other supplies.”

As Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R-MD) said this week, “Every governor in America has been pushing and fighting and clawing to get more tests, not only from the federal government, but from every private lab in America and from across the world. It’s nowhere where it needs to be.” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D-VA) noted that the President’s claims that the country has enough tests for the virus are “delusional.”

Clearly, quality is paramount. The serious stumbles at such premier institutions as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cannot continue. “The federal government must continue to support and expand the production of quality tests, and at capacity to meet the current needs of care providers,” said Greenberg.

Universal testing

As stated above, though, in order to get people back out to restart the economy, we cannot only test those who show serious symptoms and go to care providers to get tested. We must develop tests that can be self-administered, and in adequate numbers so that each person can test for COVID before leaving the home on any given day.

“Millions of workers have to take drug tests every day to keep their jobs; those tests are rapid-response. Consumers can buy rapid response tests for strep throat and pregnancy,” said Greenberg. “Those are approved FDA products that are tested for accuracy and safety. We must get to a rapid response COVID-19 home test as soon as possible.”

In order to determine who has COVID-19 and should be quarantined, every American must be able to test for the virus on a regular basis. Those who test positive, with or without symptoms, go into quarantine for 14 days, as do the people in that individual’s household. Those who test negative are cleared to go out in the world to get the trains running again. This would call for hundreds of millions of tests to enable on-going testing, as it is the only path forward at this time.

And the technology is not “pie-in-the-sky.” The FDA has already approved one home-test kit, though it requires lab analysis. And BARDA/HHS has funded another company to develop “a rapid antigen and antibody diagnostic to identify current or past SARS-CoV-2 infections in 60 seconds.” We are on the road.

Antibody testing

While it’s not clear how long antibodies create immunity, there is a belief that they at least do so for the short-term. So the next step would be to provide serology testing for people who test negative for COVID-19, using only tests approved by the FDA to ensure quality and accuracy. To date, the FDA has approved only four tests of the many available, but this is an important start.

Those who are determined to have a sufficient level of antibodies should be cleared to go back to work, while still wearing masks and gloves until science has confirmed decisively that antibodies create immunity. If the individuals don’t have antibodies, they would be advised to stay home, but could be cleared to go back to work so long as they test every day before heading out.

Contact tracing

Everyone who tests positive reaches out to everyone they’ve had contact with and those people test for COVID-19. Anyone then testing positive goes into quarantine, and the process repeats.

Use technology to self-surveil

Finally, we need a system for uploading test results each day to our phones – like the bar codes we use to board an airplane – or to carry evidence that we have taken the test, have antibodies to COVID-19, and can work or otherwise go out.  Enforcement would be a new challenge, given our commitment to civil liberties, but one that we can certainly work out.

Longer term: Vaccinate

In a year or more, when a vaccine arrives, 95 percent of Americans will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity and widespread protection.

“Our nation has the know-how and manufacturing infrastructure to produce the millions of tests needed to determine whether someone has the virus,” said Greenberg. “But due to lack of leadership at the top, our testing capacity is still, several months after the outbreak, extremely limited. To date only 3.3 million people have been tested, according to the COVID Tracking Project. That’s about 1 percent of the population. That is simply not enough.”

NCL is demanding that the Federal government respond to the current national Coronavirus emergency as President Roosevelt responded to World War II, and challenge Americans to “harness the efficient machinery of America’s manufacturers” to fight the pandemic.

“We need that call to action now, to challenge America’s labs and drug companies with the goal of producing testing for every American within the next month. Federal health care agencies including CDC, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and FDA should be their partners, and this should be a shared cost,” said Greenberg. “In the midst of the worst unemployment numbers ever seen in American history, and with millions of businesses having their existence threatened, we need federal leadership, expertise, and financial support to make this happen, and we need it now.”

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering 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.

Safe takeout options under coronavirus

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

The way we get food now has totally changed due to the Covid-19 virus. Most us around the nation no longer go to our favorite bar or restaurant or stop at the local coffee shop for a bite to eat or to socialize and have a drink. The mandatory closure shutdown of restaurants with the exception of takeout or delivery is our only option of enjoying a meal not cooked at home. Beyond that, we may ask the questions: first is it safe? Second: is it ethical to potentially expose a delivery worker to what we are all trying to avoid the risk of Covid-19?

The answer to the first question is yes, with some caveats. Currently food is not associated with the transmission of Covid-19, according to the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration. However, Vox reports that there is growing evidence of fecal/oral transmission, which means you can ingest the virus shed in feces through inadequate handwashing or contaminated food and water. Therefore, handlers of food who carry the virus can spread the virus to food items. In theory, all restaurants have to follow food safety rules, and there are extra measures that have been put in place due to Covid-19. However, we have seen Chipotle and other restaurants spread infections by poor food handling.

The second question is complicated, but here are some thoughts. Currently delivery workers are in the middle of a pandemic but still have to work to support their families and pay bills. Eater suggests that if customers forego take-out food, delivery workers and restaurants struggling to provide during the crisis could be put out of business.

We recommend ordering take-away food from your favorite restaurants and, even better, support them by buying gift cards for post-pandemic future meals when restaurants re-open.

Your first option is to is use the in-house restaurant delivery option, since third-party apps take commission fees, which reduce the profit for restaurants. Here are some apps that are taking the necessary measures in protecting their workers and helping out the restaurant industry.

  • UberEats is working to provide drivers with disinfectant. With limited supplies they are working with suppliers to source as much as possible. Any delivery worker who is diagnosed with Covid-19 or is individually asked to self-isolate by a public health authority will receive financial assistance for up to 14 days. UberEats customers have the option to choose how they would like their orders delivered, including selecting “leave at door” during checkout. UberEats has also waived the delivery fee for more than 100,000 independent restaurants across the USA and Canada.
  • Postmates launched the Postmates Fleet Relief Fund to help fleet workers cover medical expenses related to Covid-19, regardless of diagnosis. Active members of the fleet who receive a positive diagnosis for Covid-19 or who are required to self-quarantine based on infection may be eligible to access additional funds to offset up to two weeks of lost income while they recover. Postmates has also introduced non-contact deliveries, which allows distancing between customers and delivery workers. Postmates will also waive commission fees for businesses in the San Francisco Bay area.
  • DoorDash (also owns Caviar) is providing financial assistance to eligible delivery workers and Caviar couriers who are diagnosed with Covid-19 or quarantined. DoorDash is consulting with public health officials and working with restaurants to enhance their food preparation protocols. The default delivery method has been changed to the non-contact option to minimize contact between the delivery workers and customers. All new and existing DoorDash partner restaurants will receive commission relief and marketing support.
  • Grubhub is offering a one-time pay adjustment to help with medical expenses and loss of income if a driver tests positive with Covid-19. Grubhub will also support drivers who have been ordered by a public health authority or licensed medical personnel to self-isolate due to a risk of spreading Covid-19, and if a driver’s account has been individually restricted as a result of information provided to Grubhub by a public health authority regarding the risk of spreading Covid-19. Grubhub has also introduced contact-free delivery, which allows customers to request having their delivery left at the front door to avoid less contact.
  • On March 9, Instacart introduced a new sick pay policy that all part-time employees including in-store shoppers now have access to sick pay, an accrued benefit that can be used as paid time off for absences from work due to illness or injury. This pay accrual will be backdated from the start of the year for all in-store shoppers. Instacart is also offering 14 days of pay for any part-time employee and full-service shoppers who are diagnosed with Covid-19 or are under mandatory isolation or quarantine directed by local, state, or public health authority. This assist will be available for 30 days. Instacart has also introduced “Leave at my Door Delivery” to all customers across North America.

It is important that we minimize contact with others since daily things are changing in relation to Covid-19. However, delivery services are really stepping up to keep customers safe and, for that, we should all be grateful. Remember to support your local restaurants by requesting non-contact delivery!

 

National Consumers League statement on lack of airline passenger protections in COVID-19 relief bill

March 26, 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, America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, today called the Senate’s failure to include consumer protections for airline passengers in the COVID-19 relief bill a missed opportunity to protect the flying public. The bill, which passed the Senate on a 96-0 vote and appears headed toward passage in the House of Representatives, does not contain the passenger protections, supported by consumer groups, that were in Speaker Pelosi’s proposed bill.

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

“Airlines are canceling flights by the hundreds, leaving consumers who have spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on planned vacations and other travel high and dry. We are seeing disturbing reports that those customers, whose flights were canceled through no fault of their own, are being given the run-around by the airlines when they try to get a refund. A one-year flight voucher is of no use to consumers who don’t know when the current COVID-19 outbreak will subside.

In spite of this, the Senate approved a COVID-19 relief that did not require even the most basic of passenger protections of the airlines. While we applaud Congress for putting checks into the hands of the most vulnerable consumers and protecting the livelihood of millions of airline workers, it should have done more to protect the passengers who are the lifeblood of the industry. It is likely that this will not be the last time that the airlines come to Congress asking for a taxpayer bailout due to the COVID-19 outbreak. NCL will continue to press our elected representatives to ensure that consumers’ needs are not left unaddressed in the next relief bill.”

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering 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.

NCL applauds crackdown on sham coronavirus cures

March 17, 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), America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, today applauded the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for cracking down on vendors selling purported “cures” for the deadly coronavirus. In letters sent to seven companies, the agencies rightly warned that companies seeking to profit off of the “high level of anxiety” consumers are experiencing due to the coronavirus outbreak may be violating federal consumer protection statutes.

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

“Americans are right to be concerned about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Unfortunately, there are charlatans out there seeking to make a buck selling snake oil ‘cures’ for this deadly virus. These scammers are defrauding consumers of money they will need to weather the coming economic storm. Even worse, consumers who believe these fake cures will ward off or cure the coronavirus may delay obtaining needed medical care with potentially deadly results for themselves and those around them. That is why we are so grateful to the leadership shown by FTC Chairman Simons and FDA Commissioner Hahn in putting these purveyors of false hope on notice.”

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering 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.

Florence Kelley is smiling down upon Congress this week

NCL’s Florence Kelley, the towering reformer who headed the League from its first days in 1899 until her death in 1932, is surely smiling upon the U.S. House of Representatives this week.

In her time, Kelley worked tirelessly to pass federal anti-lynching laws in the United States. She was a powerful voice for racial justice and was raised in a fiercely abolitionist Quaker family. But she ran into enormous opposition and was continually angered and frustrated by the inability to get the federal proposal – the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill – through Congress.  This legislation was first introduced in 1918 by Representative Leonidas C. Dyer, a Republican from St. Louis, Missouri, in the United States House of Representatives; the Act made lynching a federal crime. The Dyer Act did pass the U.S. House of Representatives in 1922, but was halted in the Senate by a filibuster by white supremacist Southern Democrats. In fact, since 1918, there have been 200 attempts to pass federal anti-lynching bills in the U.S. Senate.

But this week something historic took place. In a rare show of bipartisan support, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the federal Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act (H.R. 35), by a landslide 410 – 4 margin, named after 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. I’ve been to the Courthouse where his murderers were acquitted and have seen the tiny grocery store in Money, MS where he was accused of his crime: whistling at a white woman. It took nearly 100 years to fully turn around public opinion and gain overwhelming support for the idea that lynching should be—must be—recognized as a federal crime. Something Kelley always knew and supported.

The Senate has already passed its version Justice for Victims of Lynching Act (S. 488). In fact, the Senate bill passed by unanimous consent in December 2018 and again in February 2019, but because the House and Senate bills still have different titles and numbers, additional action is needed in the Senate before the legislation can go to the President’s desk. 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer reports that he expects President Trump to sign the bill into law shortly thereafter.    

Lynching plagued and terrorized mainly African Americans – but also Native Americans, Jews, Asians, and many others for so many decades. It’s a form of vigilante “justice” in which victims are kidnapped and executed in public, often by hanging, as punishment for suspected crimes or as a warning to others. According to the NAACP, there were 4,472 lynchings between 1882 and 1968, most of them involving blacks killed at the hands of white mobs. The House bill describes lynching as “a pernicious and pervasive tool that was used to interfere with multiple aspects of life — including the exercise of Federally protected rights,” and prohibits “conspiracies to violate each of these rights.” 

We owe a debt of gratitude to the House sponsor Representative Bobby Rush (D-Il) and Senate sponsors Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) for their leadership.

As Senator Booker noted, “Today brings us one step closer to finally reconciling a dark chapter in our nation’s history.” “Lynchings were used to terrorize, marginalize, and oppress black communities – to kill human beings in order to sow fear and keep black communities in a perpetual state of racial subjugation. If we do not reckon with this dark past, we cannot move forward. But today we are moving forward. Thanks to the leadership of Rep. Rush, the House has sent a clear, indisputable message that lynching will not be tolerated. It has brought us closer to reckoning with our nation’s history of racialized violence. Now the Senate must again pass this bill to ensure that it finally becomes law.”

At the National Consumers League and in honor of our first leader Florence Kelley, we applaud that justice is finally done with the passage of the nation’s first law making lynching a federal crime.

DOT inaction leaves kids at risk, NCL tells Congress

September 26, 2019

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, today called on the House Aviation Subcommittee to compel the Department of Transportation (DOT) to follow through on its Congressionally-mandated passenger protection rulemakings.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently warned that in-flight sexual assaults have increased by 66 percent and that children as young as 8 have been victims of such crimes in the air. New data uncovered by Consumer Reports found that children as young as two years old and kids who have autism or who suffer from seizures have been separated from their parents on airplanes. Airlines have pressured parents to pay expensive seat reservation fees or buy priority board passes so that they can be sure to sit with their small children. Incredibly, the DOT earlier this year decided that creating a consumer education website would be sufficient to fulfill Congress’ intent that it act to ensure that families can sit with their young children.

“How many children will have to be assaulted on aircraft before the DOT acts?” asked John Breyault, NCL’s vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud at a House Aviation Subcommittee hearing today. “The DOT’s inaction on this issue has put children at greater risk. Congress should demand answers from the DOT on the process it used to determine that it should do nothing substantive on this important children’s safety issue and mandate that the agency follow through on Congress’ clear intent.”

Read Breyault’s full testimony here.

The consumer group also highlighted the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) inaction on setting minimum seat size standards despite a looming deadline to do so. The FAA has actively. The FAA is required to issue regulations no later than October 2019, yet consumer groups have seen no indication that the agency is prepared to initiate such a rulemaking. Instead, the FAA has actively resisted judicial efforts by consumer advocates pressing it to take action on the important safety issue.

“Congress must not allow the FAA to simply adopt whatever inhumane seat size standard the airline industry favors,” said Breyault.

Breyault also testified about the impact of a lack of action by the DOT on Congressional mandates related to fee refunds, denied boarding (“bumping”), and the availability of fare, fee, and schedule data.

“The DOT’s actions and inactions on important rulemakings paint a picture of an agency that places consumer protection and consumer safety at the bottom of its list of priorities,” said Breyault. “It is imperative that Congress act to ensure that its mandates are not unduly delayed, or worse, ignored completely.”

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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 www.nclnet.org.