Exposing discriminatory car loans – National Consumers League

92_bostian.jpgLet’s say you’re at the auto dealership, negotiating terms for your new car. At the next sales desk is a family whose income, credit score, and assets are identical to yours. When all is said and done, however, your loan costs $300 more than your fellow customer’s. How come? Most likely, it’s because you’re African-American and your fellow customer is white. Wait a minute, isn’t that illegal, you wonder? Well, sure, but how do you prove it? 

Who’s overseeing these so-called “interest-rate markups” that so often penalize African-American and Latino customers solely on the basis of race and ethnicity. 

Experts from the Center for Responsible Lending, Office of the Controller of the Currency, and other groups described these offensive practices at at a May 22 congressional briefing chaired by CRL staffer and NCL board member Ken Edwards. In addition to congressional staffers, reporters and advocates attended, as did NCL staffer Amy Sonderman myself. Participants also heard from several Representatives, including Hank Johnson, Steve Horsford, and Tony Cardenas, who decried discriminatory interest-rate markups, saying, “People are cheated out of what they’ve earned!” Rep. Johnson reminded participants that in 2004 Ally Bank (successor to GMAC) paid an $80 million fine to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by the National Consumer Law Center. Despite that, interest rate markups are so lucrative that this discriminatory practice continues. 

What can be done? According to Enrique Lopezlira on the National Council of La Raza, Congress should fix the “carve-out” and give the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau statutory authority to regulate car loans by auto dealers. Michael Archer from the Marine Corps Installations East, urged stronger regulation. “Troops need better financial education, but it isn’t enough. Many don’t even know they’ve been swindled, and too many don’t think it would be effective to register a complaint.”

$300 more per car, just because you’re African-American. This is one tiny aspect of racial discrimination in our “post-racial” America. Let your Representative know what you think.  

While Congress stagnates, your tax dollars are hard at work – National Consumers League

Here’s a thought. When you’re feeling disheartened about partisan bickering in Congress, think about this: your tax dollars are supporting the work of outstanding, hard-working, and knowledgeable public servants who’ve got your back. Last week, my colleague Kelsey Albright and I met with an EPA staffer who gave us a crash course on food waste. Nearly 30% of the food US agriculture produces is wasted!

Not only is she knowledgeable about the subject, she also helped us understand the part played by each sector in the food-supply chain, including us consumers. NCL is considering what we can do to help address this important problem.

Later that day, Rebecca Burkholder, Ayanna Johnson, and I met with a cheerful and equally hard-working team at FDA to talk about NCL’s Script Your Future medication adherence campaign. FDA supports the campaign, which is complementing its mission of ensuring that the prescription and OTC drugs that Americans take are safe and effective and that consumers understand how to take them properly. They are doing a lot at FDA with very limited staff and resources,

On March 11-12, Rebecca will participate in a two-day meeting convened by CERTs, the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research’s Centers for Drug Education and Research in Therapeutics. The meeting will focus on what’s working to boost adherence. The AHRQ staffer who organized the meeting, herself a physician, has generously invested time and energy in the issue and in Script Your Future.

We could all list many more federal government employees who exhibit the same traits: strong commitment to public service, deep substantive knowledge coupled with a sophisticated understanding of their issue’s political implications, an enthusiastic willingness to engage with consumers and with stakeholder groups like NCL.

Sitting on mountains of cash, U.S. corporations do too little to reduce income inequality – National Consumers League

The question of income and asset inequality has certainly moved center stage. Demands for an increase in the minimum wage are being met by howls of protest, and complaints about skyrocketing executive compensation, alas, are being met with apparent indifference in corporate boardrooms. So the struggle for justice continues, and NCL is right in there, as we have been since 1899.

There’s another player in this drama, though, that doesn’t get the same attention, even though it may have an even greater impact. That’s the fact that U.S. corporations are sitting on top of mountains of cash, but they’re not investing in creating new jobs. With the big increases in stock value — the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained more than 28% in 2013! — a reasonable person might think, why, let’s use some of this new wealth to help out all those unemployed Americans, our fellow citizens!

What are many corporations doing instead? They’re buying back their own stock, which increases the value of the shares still available to be traded. Great, if you’re a shareholder. If you’re one of the millions who lost their jobs in the great recession and whose unemployment benefits have just run out, not so good.

What can we do about it? If you are a shareholder, agitate! Let the company know you want it to invest in jobs, in community development, in public health. Tell the executive leadership to get off the sidelines. If you’re a public employee, contact your retirement system managers and tell them you don’t want them investing in companies that are basically on strike against unemployed and underpaid U.S. workers.

Thanksgiving: A time for family, good food, and exploiting workers – National Consumers League

By Larry Bostian, Vice President, Development Isn’t it a little strange that the day after Thanksgiving should come to be called Black Friday? Black implies dreariness, oblivion, death. Odd that we’ve come as a nation to believe it’s our duty, almost before the turkey’s cold, to rush out and buy stuff, maybe to help retailers compensate for lost sales on the holiday itself. Now we learn that many retailers, not content to open early on Black Friday, are throwing tradition and the holiday out the window entirely and opening for business on Thanksgiving Day. Before we rush to the mall, however, let’s pause a moment and consider.

Have these retailers given their workers a choice about coming to work on Thanksgiving? Are they offering holiday pay, even for the legions of their employees who are stuck working part-time? When Walmart is placing baskets in its stores for “associates” to contribute to their needy fellow associates, well, isn’t there something wrong with this picture? Working people need time with their families, not just to give thanks once a year, but regularly. It takes time to nurture connection, to rest and recover from the stress and strain of work that, for too many Americans, doesn’t pay well enough for them to get by. There are many people and organizations who decry the breakdown of the family. Let’s invite them to join us worker and consumer advocates in saying to the big retailers: Enough! Stand down and let your “associates” have an uninterrupted day with their families. If you must open for business on Thanksgiving Day, give them a choice, and compensate them fairly. And for us all, whenever we’re out looking for a bargain, let’s thank that hardworking and underpaid associate and remember he or she likely has a family too.