Here’s how we’re protecting consumers amid the pandemic

By Janet Domenitz
Executive Director

The spread of coronavirus across the country is obviously a serious threat to our health and wellbeing. We here at MASSPIRG are working from home and wishing everyone health, calm, and whatever you need to stay safe.

Right now, we’re focused on ensuring consumers are protected from those who would take advantage of the pandemic situation and advocating that everyone has access to the tests and resources they need to stay healthy and prevent further the spread of this disease.

The way we’ll get through this crisis is by working together. Below is information and resources we can use to protect ourselves, and to make sure our leaders are doing everything they can to protect public health. Together we can:

●     Call on United States Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir, to ensure that everyone who needs a test gets a test. Admiral Giroir, the new head of coronavirus testing response should adopt a plan to make sure that everyone who needs a test gets a test in the next seven days. This requires coordinating with health officials, universities, private institutions, shipping companies and tech companies to expand testing locations, expedite testing, improve data management and increase the number of test kits sent out into the field.

●     Urge Amazon to stop price gouging.  Price gouging is when sellers use emergencies as opportunities to inflate their prices exorbitantly due to increased demand. Analysis from the U.S PIRG Education Fund, featured in the Wall Street Journal, found that after the WHO declared a public health emergency, high prices for surveyed hand sanitizer more than doubled over their 90-day average on Amazon. Prices shouldn’t be allowed to spike during a state of emergency. MASSPIRG has resources on how to avoid price gouging and fake products and a platform to report problems. We applaud Governor Abbott  and Attorney General Maura Healey for their work pushing back against price gouging and hope their leadership will continue

●     Give tips to consumers. We’re putting together a series of tip guides on the Coronavirus including how to deal with travel cancellations, phishing scams, the dos and don'ts of Coronavirus safety, student loan payment deferrals, open textbook usage for e-learning, negotiating delays on paying credit cards or mortgages, what to stock up on, and getting help if you think you're sick.

●     Urge congress to prevent reckless deregulation. -- Right now, Wall Street is asking federal officials to lift regulations that are specifically designed to ensure banks don't fail in the event of a crisis. The top priority needs to be making sure we have the resources to fight the coronavirus and keep Americans safe. The changes the banks are calling for aren't necessary to serve that purpose. MASSPIRG and our national network were a big part of the effort to advocate for strong protections in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. To prevent economic disaster in the face of the disease's spread, we need strong protection more than ever.

 ●     Ensure greater access to voting. The continued spread of the coronavirus poses a real threat to our elections, not just through the primary and special elections, but into November. While Massachusetts has plans to deal with emergencies like power outages, natural disasters and other one-off situations, we are not currently set up to successfully run an election where large public gatherings, such as polling places, present a public health risk. If people are unable to safely get to polling places, the Commonwealth needs to modify our elections to accommodate the voters. Fortunately, a solution exists and, in some places, is already in use. Here in Massachusetts, if a person is unable to physically make it to the polls, they can request an absentee ballot be sent to their home. They can then vote at home and mail their ballot back to be counted. We need ‘no excuse’ absentee balloting for all.

We are continuing to monitor Governor Baker’s public health emergency actions including expanding telehealth coverage, requiring many state employees to work remotely, and extending the renewal timeline for drivers license and other credentials at the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV). Click here for details on these and other programs. We would love to hear any ideas you have and issues you are working on to protect Bay Staters during this health crisis. 

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