A Message from Consumer Action

Consumer Action's MoneyWi$e educational materials have moved to our Managing Money Project website. Here you may view, download and order bulk copies of the MoneyWi$e materials. Please make a note of the Managing Money Project address— www.managing-money.org —and add it to your address book.

Coalition Efforts

Consumer Action is working on these important issues along with other organizations. If you would like to know more about these issues, please see “More Information” at the end of each article.

 

Postings

It’s time to regulate airline distribution and display practices
On the three-year anniversary of the suspension of the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) request for information (RFI) on "Exploring Industry Practices on Distribution and Display of Airline Fare, Schedule and Availability Information," coalition advocate groups sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao calling for the RFI's reinstatement. Advocates are concerned that the extended pause is harming consumers by limiting their ability to see all airline, flight, fare and fee options and shop in a transparent, convenient and efficient way. It’s time for the DOT to release a final regulation of the matter and ensure consumers are treated fairly in the air-travel marketplace.

Affordability should be paramount when the COVID-19 vaccine is released to the public
Consumer Action joined nearly 70 organizations in writing to President Trump, asking him to ensure that vaccines or treatments for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), developed and purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars, are reasonably priced and available to everyone. Americans will not accept President Trump allowing Big Pharma corporations to profit off a pandemic that continues to claim thousands of lives.

Advocates call for automatic discharge of student loan debt for disabled borrowers
A coalition of more than 30 advocate groups asked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to automatically erase the federal student loan debt of roughly 350,000 student borrowers with disabilities nationwide. Currently, the Department’s application process is so burdensome that most disabled borrowers never get the help they're entitled to under law, while many more are not even aware that they qualify for a loan discharge. In fact, over 60% of eligible borrowers identified have not applied for the relief. In the worst cases, the Department has gone as far as seizing disability benefits that many borrowers with disabilities depend on to survive, as a means to collect on defaulted federal student loans. These borrowers are due critical relief now.

Congress: Pass a clean budget for FY2021
Advocates called on Congress to pass an upcoming federal budget that funds the things that Americans care about, not undo essential consumer and environmental safeguards through policy riders. Policy riders are attached to legislation and rarely have anything to do with the bill. In fact, most riders are handouts to big corporations and special favors for interest groups that could not become law on their own merits. As Congress prepares the federal budget for fiscal year 2021, no appropriations titles, package of bills, or continuing resolutions should pass if they contain poison pill policy riders that go against the public interest, including policies that ensure safe and healthy food, restrain Wall Street abuses, provide access to justice and fair housing, and guarantee access to safe healthcare.

Federal deregulation attempts increase barriers to affordable housing
All over the country, housing unaffordability has become a crisis. The number of households spending more than half of their income on housing payments has skyrocketed in the past decade. Almost 50% of renters are struggling with unaffordable rents, and the homeless population is rapidly growing in high cost areas. In response to this national crisis, the Department of Housing and Urban Development published a request for information to examine how regulations could be creating barriers to affordable housing. In response, advocates point out that it's not regulatory efforts, but moves to deregulate the housing and financial markets that are eroding and withdrawing crucial commonsense oversights, thereby increasing barriers to affordable housing.

OCC proposal could greenlight predatory lending schemes
Consumer Action joined a coalition of more than 100 organizations in opposing a proposed rule from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) that would facilitate predatory loans. Specifically, the proposed rule would make it easier for payday and other high-cost lenders to use banks as a fig leaf to offer predatory loans at interest rates of 100 percent APR or higher that are prohibited under state rate cap laws. This scheme is known as “rent-a-bank” or “rent-a-charter.”

New credit report portal would make resolving errors easier for consumers
Advocates wrote to Congress in support of the Protecting Your Credit Score Act of 2019 (H.R. 5332). The bipartisan bill directs the three credit reporting bureaus to work together to create one online portal to provide free and unlimited access to credit reports and scores, the ability to more easily initiate and resolve disputes with a credit bureau and to provide access to see who the bureaus have sold consumer data to in the prior two years. One of the biggest issues facing low-income communities is access to credit. In many cases, inaccurate credit information limits low-income individuals from accessing affordable loan products. This can lead to borrowing from high-cost pay-day lenders, or using high-rate credit facilities. This bill places the burden of resolving inaccurate credit information on the bureaus, instead of on the consumer.

Advocates urge CFPB to create strong protections for PACE borrowers
Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs offer loans for energy efficient home improvements, such as solar panels, HVAC systems, and energy efficient windows, along with more questionable items such as “cool coat paint.” PACE loans, offered through home improvement contractors, often in door-to-door sales, and secured by a property tax lien, are collected through a property tax assessment that takes priority over any existing mortgage. PACE programs must be authorized by state and local governments, but are privately run with little or no government oversight. Advocates encouraged the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to use its authority to issue a rule that applies all of the Truth in Lending Act to the industry and to continue to research the PACE market in order to develop strong protections that curb widespread program abuse.

Pharmacy benefit managers are driving up drug costs for patients
States, local governments, organizations, and businesses use pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to negotiate lower drug prices for the individuals on their health insurance plans. Three organizations control 85 percent of this market. While PBMs play a crucial role in the drug supply chain, the lack of transparency regarding their practices has long contributed to the rising cost of prescription drugs. The PBM Transparency and Prescription Drug Costs Act (H.R. 5304) will increase transparency, hold pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) accountable, and help lower prescription drug prices. This bipartisan bill will mandate quarterly reports on the costs, fees, and rebate information associated with PBM contracts. This reform ensures employers know the true costs of the services they are paying for and passes on savings to consumers.

Advocates call on Amtrak to end forced arbitration policy
Consumer Action joined a coalition of more than 30 groups in urging the federally-controlled and federally-subsidized Amtrak to remove the arbitration clause it implemented earlier this year for passengers. This new policy means that for any dispute ranging from a customer complaint to a mass casualty crash, passengers and their families are stripped of their right to go to court. Under forced arbitration, Amtrak disputes must be resolved in a secretive, privatized system, replacing and judge and jury with arbitrators.

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