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

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.

The FCC prepares to regulate providers’ efforts to curb annoying robocalls
The Federal Trade Commission received 3.78 million consumer complaints about robocalls in 2019, compared with 3.79 million in 2018. Congress passed the TRACED Act late last year, which aims to crack down on robocalls by requiring voice service providers to implement caller ID authentication technology, and directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate the providers’ efforts. In preparation for its upcoming report on robocalls, advocates call on the FCC to take further action to hold voice service providers accountable in their efforts to stop annoying scam calls.

Backlash grows over use of facial recognition
In a letter to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent agency in the executive branch, consumer, privacy and civil liberties groups urged President Trump and his administration to prohibit the federal government from using facial surveillance on the American public. Advocates are ringing the alarm after a recent federal study by The National Institute of Standards and Technology found pervasive racial bias in facial surveillance technology, and a New York Times investigation found a startup, Clearview AI, was stockpiling more than 3 billion photos from online sites and offering them up to help law enforcement match photos of suspects to pictures online. Considering the startup’s obvious violations of existing privacy laws, and the prevalent bias and discrimination in the facial recognition systems that are currently in use, advocates recommend a blanket moratorium on the technology.

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.

Congress steps in to overturn DeVos borrower defense rule
In September, the Department of Education released a new version of the "Borrower Defense to Repayment" rule that would make it virtually impossible for students cheated by their college to cancel their student loans. Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Susie Lee have introduced a Congressional Review Act challenge to repeal this rule and restore stronger student protections put in place in a 2016 Borrower Defense rule.

Congress tackles Americans’ desire for more online privacy
In a joint letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, coalition members called on the committee to enact stronger privacy protections online. The letter explains that out of the three recent privacy bills introduced in committee, the “Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act” (COPRA) is one of the strongest pieces of privacy legislation in the Senate and that it largely satisfies the four principles of the Public Interest Privacy Legislation Principles, which Consumer Action signed onto last November.

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