Washington, DC – The protection of consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond will require the next Administration to reestablish the White House Office of Consumer Affairs (WHOCA). The National Consumers League is calling for the restoration of the WHOCA to elevate the interests of consumers to the highest levels of government, including access to the Oval Office. For decades, WHOCA gave consumers a voice within the Administration and coordinated consumer protection activities across the U.S. government. Such leadership will be sorely needed to rebuild consumers’ confidence in the government’s ability to protect them from industry abuses.
In a new report, COVID-19 and the Impact on Consumers, the National Consumers League examines how consumers have been harmed by price gouging, fraud targeting stimulus checks, anti-worker practices, and a sharp dip in confidence in testing and vaccines since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The report also highlights legislation from the 116th Congress that advanced consumers’ interest and should be at the top of policymakers’ agendas next year.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into stark relief the impact of years of hollowing-out of our nation’s consumer protection agencies,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “With this report, we hope to shine a light of consumer protection policies that should be embraced over the next four years, regardless of which party comes out ahead in November.”
Issues covered in the report include:
- Price gouging and profiteering – Congress should act to rein in price gouging on personal protective equipment. Refunds for cancelled or postponed flights and live events should be required to be provided quickly to consumers.
- Scams targeting stimulus funds – An estimated $8 billion in unemployment insurance funds have been lost to scammers since the beginning of the COVID crisis. Many millions more in stimulus checks and other COVID relief may have also been diverted. In any future stimulus legislation, Congress must act to ensure that a second wave of scams targeting such relief funds do not deprive consumers of desperately needed support.
- Restoring confidence in COVID-related health care – NCL has strongly urged public health agencies to increase and enhance infrastructure regarding vaccine confidence and has called for effective public messaging and strong vaccine recommendations to ensure that the American public feels safe, informed, and empowered in their decisions to vaccinate once a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.
- Protecting essential workers – Workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis must receive the personal protective equipment they need to do their jobs safely. They must also be given pandemic premium pay to compensate them for the increased risks they bear keeping our economy functioning during this challenging time. They should also not be barred from seeking justice by overly broad liability protections that some in Congress to seek to attach to future stimulus bills.
- Accountability for taxpayer funds – Money intended to support struggling small business payrolls should not go to support the super-wealthy. Bailouts targeted at specific industries like the airlines should not be diverted to unrelated purposes, such as lobbying.
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.