Norcross Calls on Attorney General Barr to End Price Gouging Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Congressman Donald Norcross (NJ-01) sent a letter today to Attorney General William Barr asking that the Department of Justice take aggressive action to protect American consumers from price gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some retailers have taken steps to maintain access to items such as hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies, there has been an increase in reports of merchants over charging customers for these essential items.
“As our hospitals, health care workers and every American across the country continues to adapt to the impact of COVID-19, the last thing they should need to worry about is being charged excessive prices for basic essentials, equipment and supplies,” said Congressman Norcross. “Price gouging should never happen and especially not during a crisis when people need these products for protection. I urge the Department of Justice to take aggressive and immediate action to combat these practices and ensure that those in need are not taken advantage of by sellers charging unreasonable prices.”
NJ has issued 167 cease-and-desist letters, instructing businesses to cease any unlawful pricing, and served 32 subpoenas so far. On Wednesday, NJ Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal demanded major online markets, including Amazon, Facebook and Walmart, adopt more effective measures to combat price increases during emergencies.
An excessive price increase under NJ law is defined as charging more than 10% higher than the price at which merchandise was sold during the normal course of business prior to the State of Emergency. NJ businesses and consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file an online complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs here.
Full text of the letter to Attorney General Barr can be downloaded here.
March 26, 2020
The Honorable William Barr
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Attorney General Barr:
I wish to raise to your attention the frequent “price gouging” experienced by consumers as they purchase what they need to protect against the novel Coronavirus. I ask that the Department of Justice, under your leadership, take decisive action to coordinate a federal response to price gouging occurring in interstate commerce.
Thus far your department has acted to combat price gouging for medical supplies that may be currently being hoarded by companies, in contravention of the Defense Production Act. While this step is crucial for getting these much-needed medicines and personal protective equipment into the hands of healthcare professionals, it does little to impact the price gouging experienced by the average consumer.
In New Jersey and other states, we have seen significant efforts being undertaken to combat price gouging in the physical retail marketplace. Ultimately state Attorneys General are best equipped to enforce price gouging at the markets, grocery stores and retail locations that Americans frequent. However, in heeding the direction of health professionals, Americans who are practicing social distancing are more often purchasing much needed supplies online.
While many online retailers are taking important, independent action to reduce unfair pricing in their marketplaces, the practice is still troubling pervasive and increased federal oversight is needed.
Should your department find that it is need of additional authorities to protect the consumer, I hope that you will let myself and my colleagues in Congress know. With a coordinated federal response to this growing issue I know that we can bring relief to American families.
Member of Congress