Democratic Senators urge FTC to prevent coronavirus price gouging

Democratic Senators urge FTC to prevent coronavirus price gouging
© Bonnie Cash

A group of 17 Democratic Senators sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Friday urging it to do more to combat price gouging amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter calls on the agency to use its authority to prevent “unfair or deceptive acts or practices," the lawmakers say should include inflating prices when consumers desperately need health products.

"[W]e have been seeing in numerous reports of unscrupulous vendors taking advantage of this national emergency by charging wildly inflated prices for once-affordable consumer products," the lawmakers, led by Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHarris, CBC put weight behind activist-led National Black Voter Day Seven takeaways from California's recall election Live coverage: California voters to decide Newsom's fate MORE (D-Minn.), wrote to FTC chairman Joseph Simons. "Such price gouging does not just enrich sellers at the expense of desperate consumers, it may prevent low income consumers from obtaining these products altogether."

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The letter, which was also signed by Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBriahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' Sanders 'disappointed' in House panel's vote on drug prices Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenFederal Reserve officials' stock trading sparks ethics review Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack MORE (D-Mass.) and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisStefanik in ad says Democrats want 'permanent election insurrection' Live coverage: California voters to decide Newsom's fate Florida woman faces five years in prison for threatening to kill Harris MORE (D-Calif.), follows multiple reports of essential products like hand sanitizer and face masks selling at substantially increased prices on online retail sites.

Several retailers have taken steps to address the issue, as have government entities.

Simons issued a statement Thursday detailing how the FTC is working to protect consumers during the pandemic.

“We will not tolerate businesses seeking to take advantage of consumers’ concerns and fears regarding coronavirus disease, exigent circumstances, or financial distress,” the chairman said, underscoring that his agency is working with enforcement authorities and stakeholders to stop deceptive business practices.

President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE on Monday signed an executive order aimed at preventing price gouging and hoarding of critical medical supplies. The order would allow the Department of Justice to apply criminal penalties if supplies deemed critical are hoarded, Attorney General William BarrBill BarrAttorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation Milley moved to limit Trump military strike abilities after Jan. 6, Woodward book claims: report Former US attorney enters race for governor in Pennsylvania MORE explained.

Another group of Democratic senators introduced a bill Wednesday prohibiting selling, or offering to sell, essential items at excessive — defined as 20 percent above normal — prices during crises.

“The coronavirus pandemic has put incredible stress on consumers and we must make sure that they can afford essential goods and services,” Klobuchar said in a statement on that bill. “All consumers should have access to the products and services they need to protect their families at fair, uninflated prices.”