Senator Amy Klobuchar
Rows of empty shelves in our grocery stores. Single rolls of toilet paper for $10. Staples like eggs, meat, and rice going for double the normal price. These are just some of the troubling things Minnesotans have reported seeing since the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping across our country.
This crisis has led to nationwide shortages of everyday items like hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and even soap as millions of Americans try to keep themselves and their families safe. It is only natural for people to plan and stock up on essential items during an emergency. But these shortages are being made worse by hoarding and price gouging on the part of some businesses seeking to take advantage of consumers during a pandemic.
People are under extraordinary stress right now, particularly our health care workers on the frontlines battling this virus. Unfortunately, there are always some who see a crisis as a business opportunity, and that is what we are seeing when unscrupulous vendors hoard essential supplies and charge exorbitant prices for once-affordable products.
This is simply unacceptable. These practices force consumers to pay inflated prices for everyday goods and prevent some low-income families from getting these products at all. They are also burdening our doctors and nurses, who are facing critical shortages of medical supplies and equipment, like masks, respirators, medical gowns, face shields, and disinfectants as they try to treat patients and save lives.
While some retailers and online businesses are taking important steps to tackle price gouging, this is a problem the private sector can’t solve alone. That’s why I’m leading work in the Senate to urge the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to use its full authority to prevent abusive price gouging. The FTC has the power to prevent “unfair or deceptive acts or practices,” and this is a time when the FTC should be pushing the limits of its full consumer protection authority to help protect the American people.
Together with Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, I also called on the Justice Department to vigorously enforce a recent executive order issued to help prevent price gouging and requested information about the department’s efforts to address this problem. The president and attorney general pledged to tackle this problem, and I am working to hold the Justice Department accountable and ensure it is taking action to curb these practices.
Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison are taking important actions here in Minnesota, as well. Following Gov. Walz’s executive order to crack down on price gouging during this pandemic, Attorney General Ellison announced he has joined with state and federal prosecutors to launch a task force to better streamline investigations and prosecutions against retailers accused of exploiting the pandemic for profit.
But this is not a problem that will disappear when this pandemic is behind us. We’ve seen price gouging during past crises, and we will see it again. Currently, neither federal law nor state law explicitly outlaw these practices.
That is why I introduced federal legislation to prevent price gouging during this emergency and the emergencies we will inevitably confront in the future. Specifically, my bill would prohibit selling or offering to sell essential goods and services at an unconscionably excessive price during — or in anticipation of — a natural disaster, pandemic, or state of emergency. Prices that exceed pre-crisis prices by more than 20% would meet this definition, unless they were caused by cost increases to the seller. And this would apply to all goods and services that are used to protect the health and welfare of the public.
No one should profit off the stress and vulnerability of their fellow citizens.
Fighting back against these practices is going to require all of us working together. Minnesotans are resilient and we’ve dealt with our fair share of challenges. With so much uncertainty in peoples’ lives right now, Minnesotans deserve to know that when disaster strikes, they will be able to get the essential supplies they need at fair prices.