Raids by federal agents in Florida suggest a policy shift that will make it more difficult for Americans to access low-cost prescription medications. (Photo: Chris Potter/ccPix.com/Flickr/cc)
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raided nine stores in Central Florida that assist customers with placing orders for low-cost prescription drugs from Canada and other countries, Kaiser Health Newsreported Monday, suggesting a shift away from a long-standing policy that benefited consumers but was strongly condemned by the pharmaceutical industry.
“The storefronts primarily serve seniors who prefer in-person assistance with buying medicines from Canada and other countries, rather than using an internet site,” Kaiser reports. Bill Hepscher, co-owner of six of the stores raided last month, estimates his business serves about 10,000 people a year, and that Florida has about 20 stores similar to his. His stores are located around Tampa Bay and Orlando. Continue reading →
While informed critics and experts say they are now “running out of adjectives to describe how horrible” the GOP’s House and Senate tax plans are, the evidence continues to mount showing the manner in which the party’s overall approach is a gift to the rich and corporations at the expense of low- and middle-income families, millions of whom who will see their taxes actually go up while key social programs like public education, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will face massive cuts.
In this 2005 frame from the infamous Access Hollywood video, Donald Trump stands with host Billy Bush (left) as he prepares for an appearance on ‘Days of Our Lives’ with actress Arianne Zucker (right). Just moments before, Trump has told Bush he can do whatever he wants to beautiful women because of his fame. (Screenshot: via The Washington Post obtained video)
As the floodgates have certainly opened in positive ways over recent weeks in terms of women feeling more empowered and secure in speaking publicly about the men—often those in positions of power—who have sexually assaulted or harassed them over the years, the wave of revelations have also brought re-newed focus on the previous and numerous accusations levied against the nation’s most powerful man: President Donald J. Trump.
While an infamous recording released during last year’s campaign in which Trump openly talked about how he used his wealth and fame to prey on women, the shifting national conversation about sexual misconduct—and the “hypocritical” way in which Trump injected himself into that conversation this week—has led many to argue that the numerous women who have already publicly accused Trump of sexual assault or harassment should be given further and renewed hearing. Continue reading →
“The culture in this country has been awakened to the fact that we have a serious epidemic in the workplace in all professions, in all walks of life, and it’s incumbent upon those who are in authority to address it and address it swiftly.”
In the wake of widespread allegations of sexual harassment and assault across a number of industries, two members of Congress introduced legislation on Wednesday aimed at combating the problem on Capitol Hill.
The Me Too Act, named after the social media campaign that flooded Twitter and Facebook feeds in recent weeks and brought to light the frequency with which women from all walks of life cope with sexual harassment and assault, demands an overhaul of the complaint process women in Congress must navigate in order to report sexual misconduct. Continue reading →
Following the release of a slew of analyses showing that the GOP tax plan would raise taxes on many middle class families—despite repeated promises to the contrary by the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) conceded in an interview with the New York Times Friday that he “misspoke” when he declared last week that “nobody in the middle class is going to get a tax increase.”
“I misspoke on that,” McConnell toldTimes reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg. “You can’t guarantee that absolutely no one sees a tax increase, but what we are doing is targeting levels of income and looking at the average in those levels and the average will be tax relief for the average taxpayer in each of those segments.” Continue reading →
“From the civilians harmed and displaced by violence, to the soldiers killed and wounded, to the children who play years later on roads and fields sown with improvised explosive devices and cluster bombs, no set of numbers can convey the human toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or how they have spilled into the neighboring states of Syria and Pakistan, and come home to the U.S. and its allies in the form of wounded veterans and contractors,” the new report states. (Photo: Lynn Friedman/flickr/cc)
A new analysis offers a damning assessment of the United States’ so-called global war on terror, and it includes a “staggering” estimated price tag for wars waged since 9/11—over $5.6 trillion.
The Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Center says the figure—which covers the conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan from 2001 through 2018—is the equivalent of more than $23,386 per taxpayer. Continue reading →
Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and U.S. President Donald Trump met in March 2017 in the Oval Office of the White House. (Photo: Shealah Craighead/White House)
In a move called “twisted” and “absolutely awful” by healthcare experts, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Seema Verma said Tuesday that the Trump administration will encourage states to force work requirements on people enrolled in Medicaid.
In a speech to the National Association of Medicaid Directors, Verma explained her approach to managing CMS, which emphasizes deregulation and transferring more control to the states. Verma vowed to fast-track approvals of states’ proposals for amending how they implement Medicaid and denounced the Obama administration’s rejection of work requirements for Medicaid recipients, promising to “approve proposals that promote community engagement activities,” which she defined as “working, volunteering, going to school, or obtaining job training.” Continue reading →
For months Republicans and President Donald Trump have worked to convince Americans that massive tax cuts for the top one percent and the largest corporations would somehow primarily benefit the working class, but a new Washington Post/ABC News poll published Friday finds that the public isn’t buying the GOP’s “propaganda.”
Despite House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) insistence on Thursday that his party’s proposals are geared toward helping “the middle class families in this country who deserve a break,” only 17 percent of Americans believe the GOP tax plan “mainly favors” the middle class, while 60 percent believe their plan would primarily benefit the wealthiest. Continue reading →
So what would you miss if the agency suddenly disappeared or got gutted?
In short, a lot. We base this conclusion on the work the three of us have done in recent decades. One of us (Sovern) has been writing about consumer law for more than 30 years, while the other two of us direct a legal clinic that represents elderly consumers. We’ve seen the worst of what financial companies can do, and we’ve also witnessed how the CFPB has begun to reverse the tide.
Life before CFPB
If you are one of the more than 29 million consumers who have collectively received nearly US$12 billion back from misbehaving financial institutions because of the CFPB’s efforts, you already know its value. But even if you are not, you have probably benefited from the bureau’s existence.
Before Congress created the bureau, there was no federal agency that made consumer financial protection its sole mission. Rather, consumer protection was rolled into the missions of a bunch of different agencies. And, as we saw during the financial crisis, regulators often gave it a back seat.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency regulates banks but was so preoccupied with ensuring lenders were safe that it failed to protect consumers from their predatory subprime mortgages – so much so that it prevented states from doing so too. And now President Trump has put a former bank lawyer in charge of it. The Federal Trade Commission, which is tasked with fighting deceptive business practices, lacked the power to prevent such dangerous lending.
This meant consumer protection on financial matters fell through the cracks.
But as early as 2010, before the CFPB was set up, regulators at the OCC were increasingly aware of what was happening at Wells Fargo thanks to hundreds of whistleblower complaints. The OCC even confronted the bank, yet failed to take any action despite many red flags, according to an internal audit.
Besides protecting consumers, however, Congress had a second motive in creating the bureau: to help prevent the kind of mortgage lending that helped cause the Great Recession.
To that end, the bureau has adopted rules that help consumers to understand their mortgages – something that often wasn’t possible under the previously misleading mortgage disclosures. It also issued regulations to prevent consumers from taking out mortgages that they couldn’t repay. And after borrowers take out a mortgage, CFPB servicing rules establish the procedures servicers must follow when communicating with borrowers, correcting errors, providing information and dealing with loan modification requests.
Two of us have personal experience with one of the bureau’s new mortgage rules, which powerfully illustrates the value of the CFPB.
In 2014, Alice, a client of our law school clinic, was struggling to pay the mortgage on her home – which she had refinanced a few years earlier – after a stroke forced her into retirement. Our clinic helped her apply for a modification of her loan.
But within weeks, instead of acknowledging Alice’s application, the loan servicer summoned her to court to begin foreclosure proceedings in violation of CFPB servicing rules. Fortunately, our clinic was able to rely on those rules in getting the foreclosure action dismissed. Alice got her loan modified and remains in her home.
Protecting the vulnerable
This reveals how the bureau is particularly important to protect vulnerable consumers, like the elderly, who are frequently targeted by fraudsters and predatory lenders because of their cognitive and other impairments and because they often have accumulated substantial assets. The CFPB is the only federal agency with an office specifically dedicated to protecting the financial well-being of older adults.
The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would cripple the CFPB by, for example, taking away the power it used to fine Wells Fargo for opening illegal accounts and concealing its complaint database from public view. In other words, it would force the bureau to sit idly by as financial institutions lie to consumers. Even if the bureau survives, it may be less protective of consumers when its current director, Richard Cordray, leaves. His term expires next summer, and he may step down even sooner. Then we might see a former banker or bank lawyer put in charge, just as has happened at the Treasury Department and comptroller’s office.
Nearly every American has or will have a loan or bank account, a prepaid card, credit card, a credit report or some combination of those, and so has dealings with a financial institution policed by the CFPB. But few of us read the fine print governing these things or can understand it when we do. That gives the companies that write these agreements the ability to draft them to suit their own interests at the expense of consumers.
Similarly, we do not always know when a financial institution takes advantage of us, just as Wells Fargo customers did not always know that it had opened unauthorized accounts that lowered their credit scores.
Consumers need protection from misbehaving companies. If the bureau is eliminated, significantly weakened or starts protecting banks rather than consumers, all consumers will suffer.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on July 10, 2017.
Along with three co-authors, Jeff Sovern received a $29,510 grant from the American Association for Justice Robert L. Habush Endowment and by a grant from the St. John’s University School of Law Hugh L. Carey Center for Dispute Resolution in 2014 to study arbitration. It resulted in an article. Along with Professor Kate Walton, he received a grant from the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges Endowment for Education to study debt collection, resulting in another article. He is a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.
Ann L. Goldweber is affiliated with NACA as a member.
Gina M. Calabrese is affiliated with the National Association of Consumer Advocates, New Yorkers for Responsible Lending, and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (former chair, Committee on the Civil Court).
Vice President Mike Pence presiding over the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, during the Senate’s vote on Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos. On Tuesday night, Pence returned to the chamber again to a break another tie. This time it was to make sure it’s easier in the future for financial service companies and other Wall Street darlies to make it easier to rip-off consumers. (Photo: Senate Television)
While in the end it was two Republicans, Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Kennedy of Louisiana, who joined with Democrats and the Senate’s two Independents in voting against the resolution, Pence broke the 50-50 tie in order to scrap the rule. Continue reading →