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Consumer Reports urges Congress to protect consumers from pandemic price gouging

House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection to hold hearing today on legislation (HR 675) to stop sellers from price gouging 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Consumer Reports is calling on Congress to enact strong and effective federal prohibitions against price gouging in advance of a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing today that will examine corporate profiteering during the pandemic. CR supports HR 675, legislation that would empower the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to investigate and hold accountable companies that engage in excessive pricing during the COVID-19 crisis.

Today’s hearing, “Pandemic Profiteers: Legislation to Stop Corporate Price Gouging,” begins at 10:30 am ET and can be accessed via livestream here.

“Many consumers have struggled to find adequate supplies of masks, test kits and other essential items at affordable prices at a time when inflation is already making it difficult for many families to make ends meet,” said Chuck Bell, Advocacy Programs Director at Consumer Reports. “Charging exorbitant prices to boost profits during a national health emergency is particularly egregious and must be stopped. We need a strong national law that prohibits price gouging and gives law enforcement authorities the tools they need to hold companies accountable when they exploit our current health crisis and hike prices unfairly.”

In a letter to the Subcommittee, Consumer Reports noted that many businesses raised prices for personal protective equipment and household necessities beginning early in the pandemic, and that state regulators have received thousands of complaints about such practices.  Some states have reported at-home COVID-19 tests going for double or triple the listed retail price — up to $70 a package — during this recent surge, and similar mark-ups on face masks and other personal protective equipment have been common.

The inflated cost of personal protective equipment and COVID-19 test kits is especially burdensome for low- and moderate-income consumers, essential workers, parents of school-age children who need to test more frequently, and people on fixed incomes.

Unfortunately, federal law does not specifically prohibit price gouging during emergencies like the current pandemic.  And while most states have laws addressing price gouging during a time of emergency or disaster, there’s no consistent standard for how the COVID-19 crisis fits into those laws.  That leaves loopholes that can be exploited by unscrupulous companies.

HR 675, the COVID-19 Price Gouging Prevention Act, would make price gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic an unfair and deceptive practice under the Federal Trade Commission Act.  The bill would help the FTC and state attorneys general challenge excessive pricing of such goods and services as food, water, personal protective equipment, respirators, medical supplies, cleaning supplies, sanitizers, healthcare services, delivery services, and cleaning services.

Michael McCauley, michael.mccauley@consumer.org, 4145-902-9537