Consumers complained about a gasoline station in the Ironbound section of Newark price gouging after Sandy. That is, it jacked up its pump prices by at least ten percent in a declared emergency. The station admitted no wrongdoing, but paid more than $25,000 in penalties and fees to settle the case with the state attorney general.
The Village Hardware in Chatham settled price gouging complaints for $20,000 as well with the state, and so did a Homewood Suites by Hilton in Princeton for $92,000 in penalties plus consumer reimbursements.
“It was really a cruel abuse of power by unscrupulous businesses. It kind of added salt to very raw wounds for the people that were suffering in the advent of the storm,” said Rep. Frank Pallone.
New Jersey has a price gouging law. Pallone says the state used it 27 times to sue businesses after Sandy, businesses that settled with the state attorney general’s office.
“New Jersey is one of the better states in this regard,” said Pallone.
Thirty-four states with price gouging laws but Pallone, standing along a coastal evacuation route in Long Branch, wants the federal government to protect consumers in all states against price gouging.
“I don’t think anybody should have to pay more, you know, excessive prices when they’re a victim of a natural disaster,” said Pallone.
Pallone is introducing the STAND UP Act that would target price gouging within six months of a declaration of a major disaster, and empower the Federal Trade Commission to set guidelines and state attorneys general to pursue offenders.
“There should be federal action. There should be a backup for states that don’t have price gouging laws. The FTC, the Federal Trade Commission, can step in. For states that do, they can be a back up in case something’s not working on the state level,” Pallone continued.
New Jersey Citizen Action agreed with the congressman that climate change will produce more storms and consumers need protection across the country.
“If we as a society can’t stand up for the most vulnerable, we may as well sit down because we will have found the moral and ethical bottom of consumerism,” said Beverly Brown Ruggia, financial justice organizer for the organization.
Pallone is the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which would hear the bill. He’ll find out if this Congress and this White House are of the mind to “stand up” for consumers in major disasters.