MASSPIRG Calls for Passage of Price Gouging Law

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MASSPIRG called on the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure to pass S. 2652, An Act relative to preventing price gouging during an emergency filed by Senator Bruce Tarr. The bill would codify into law the emergency price gouging regulation, 940, CMR 3:18, that Attorney General Maura Healey issued on 3/20/20.

“The bottom line,” said Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG’s legislative director, is that if the price of something skyrockets during a crisis – or in anticipation of one, it’s price gouging. Businesses should not jack up their prices just because people are vulnerable – whether it is COVID 19, or a tornado, or hurricane, or blizzard, that is wrong and should not be allowed to happen.”

Below is a copy of the testimony: 

Chairman Tackey Chan

Chairman Paul Feeney

Members of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure

May 13, 2020

RE: In support of S. 2652, An Act relative to preventing price gouging during an emergency

Dear Chairman Chan, Chairman Feeney, and members of the Committee,

MASSPIRG fully supports the passage of S. 2652, An Act relative to preventing price gouging during an emergency filed by Senator Bruce Tarr. The bill codifies into law the emergency price gouging regulation, 940, CMR 3:18, that Attorney General Maura Healey issued on 3/20/20.

The bill, S. 2652 prohibits price gouging of goods and services necessary for public health and safety during a declared statewide or national emergency. Previously under the state’s consumer protection law, the only existing regulation related to price gouging addressed the sale of gasoline and other petroleum products. This bill will not only protect consumers from excessive prices during a crisis when one might have limited resources, but will also protect our health as many products are needed for our wellbeing, and in the case of a pandemic – to stop the spread of the disease.

The coronavirus pandemic has illustrated the need for this legislation. As COVID-19 spreads throughout the country, it is especially important that consumers are not taken advantage of by unscrupulous sellers of products at exorbitant prices. MASSPIRG and other independent third-party organizations and journalists have documented multiple examples of price-gouging of items people need to protect themselves since the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency on January 30. In addition, as of last month, Massachusetts office of Attorney General has reported receiving more than 320 price gouging complaints.

In March, we found significant price hikes for products like hand sanitizer, facemasks, and thermometers for sale on Amazon.com. In fact we have worked with 33 AG’s, including AG Maura Healey and 346 lawmakers (including 25 lawmakers from MA) to call on the 5 largest online retailers – Amazon, Craigslist, eBay, Facebook, and Walmart to quickly implement preventative measures  on their platforms to ensure that consumers don’t get taken advantage of in a state of emergency.

Examples of price gouging include:

-On Amazon, MASSPIRG Education Fund found that more than half of hand sanitizers and facemasks available spiked by at least 50% compared to the average price. One in six products sold directly by Amazon saw similar price spikes.

-On Craigslist, someone was selling a two-liter bottle of Purell Advanced hand sanitizer for $250–ten times the normal price.

-On Facebook Marketplace, an eight-ounce bottle was being sold for $40.

The bottom line is that if the price of something skyrockets during a crisis – or in anticipation of one, it’s price gouging. Businesses should not jack up their prices just because people are vulnerable – whether it is COVID 19, or a tornado, or hurricane, or blizzard, that is wrong and should not be allowed to happen.

I hope you will pass this bill to protect consumers for pricing gouging during an emergency.

Sincerely,

Deirdre Cummings

Legislative Director

MASSPIRG

[email protected]

 

 

staff | TPIN

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