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State Consumer Protection Efforts in the Time of COVID-19

Published on November 12, 2020

Header image with title: State Consumer Protection ScorecardThe coronavirus pandemic has widened the gap in consumer protections efforts among states.

In order to better understand how the pandemic has reshaped the consumer protection landscape in the US, our policy team put together a scorecard, based on the consumer claims filed through FairShake, to compare states on the effectiveness of their responses to COVID-19 across a selection of important consumer protection efforts. 

The scorecard shows that people in certain states struggle more than others to protect their rights under COVID-19. For example, there were more than 5 times as many claims in Mississippi (one of the worst scoring states) as there were in Massachusetts (the top performing state). This large variance in burden seems to correlate to policies enacted at the state level, with states that prohibit price gouging or unfair & deceptive practices having fewer consumer claims. States that have laws putting the interests of corporations ahead of consumers tend to have more claims overall.

The following graphics show the best and worst states based on the 9 areas the FairShake policy team used to compare protection efforts:

  1. Laws against unfair & deceptive practices
  2. Laws against price gouging
  3. Healthcare pricing transparency
  4. Relief for loan borrowers and existing bans against high-interest loans
  5. Tenants’ rights and an eviction moratorium
  6. Announced actions against businesses profiting from COVID-19
  7. Liability protections for businesses
  8. Percentage of the unemployed population receiving benefits before COVID-19
  9. Legal claims per capita during COVID-19

Top 10 States

If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that not all states handle crises the same way.

Map of 10 best states when it comes to protecting consumers during COVID-19

These “Top 10” states have stepped up their legislative and regulatory efforts when it comes to protecting consumers. Here we dive into each state and how they’ve landed amongst the best states for consumer protection:

#1 Massachusetts

Massachusetts scorecard

Massachusetts leads the nation in protecting consumers during the COVID crisis. 

The state passed laws against unfair & deceptive practices, price gouging, and high-interest loans before the pandemic began. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker extended a pause on evictions and foreclosures until October 17, one of the last set to expire.

The state granted immunity to certain types of employers for claims made by employees who contract COVID-19. Bay Staters residents also submit fewer legal claims per capita than all but 3 other states.

#2 Vermont

Vermont scorecard

Vermont had their eviction moratorium extended until 30 days after the end of the COVID emergency. The state also boasts strong laws against unfair & deceptive practices and price gouging already in place.

Vermont has committed to more effectively delivering unemployment benefits to the state’s jobless residents pre-COVID. The state’s attorney general demanded relief for student loan borrowers, and the state already bans high-interest loans.The Vermont AG also sued a gym for reopening too early, but rescinded the lawsuit when the state announced that gyms would soon be allowed to reopen.

One notable difference for this state: Vermonters submitted the fewest claims per capita during the COVID pandemic (tied with South Dakota), but they did experience a 20x increase in claims during its peak in the state.

#3 California

California scorecard

Californians benefit from many consumer protections, although the state’s percentage of jobless residents receiving benefits pre-COVID lags behind those of Massachusetts and Vermont.

The attorney general has demanded student loan relief, but these benefits don’t extend to the millions of borrowers of high-interest payday loans in California, which are still legal in the state.

Governor Gavin Newsom has suspended evictions until September 30, a major relief for struggling renters.

#4 New Jersey

New Jersey scorecard

Before the start of the COVID crisis, New Jersey led the nation in delivering jobless benefits to the highest percentage of unemployed residents. New Jersey also banned payday loans and different forms of price gouging, and advocated for relief for student loan borrowers.

An eviction moratorium is in place until the end of the COVID emergency.

However, we have witnessed a large increase in the number of legal claims by New Jersey residents since the start of the COVID emergency. And their legislature passed a law providing immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits for certain health care facilities, and an unfair & deceptive practices law that lacks the strength of similar laws in California and Massachusetts.

#5 Hawaii

Hawaii scorecard

Hawaii had an eviction moratorium in place until August 31.

Hawaiian employees are only eligible for workers compensation if they catch COVID-19 on the job if it’s a direct result of their job duties, such as caring for an infected person. Hawaii had a strong law prohibiting unfair & deceptive acts & practices before the pandemic began.

No announced enforcement actions, but Hawaii’s attorney general defended its emergency order from lawsuits alleging that the restrictions placed an undue burden on commerce.

#6 Connecticut 

Connecticut scorecard

There is an eviction moratorium in place until October 1.

Connecticut had a strong law prohibiting unfair & deceptive acts & practices before the pandemic began. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong has sent hundreds of letters of inquiry to businesses about potential cases of fraud or price gouging during the COVID-19 emergency.

#7 New York

New York scorecard

NY Attorney General Letitia James filed lawsuits for price gouging during the pandemic, and the state legislature expanded the scope of New York’s price-gouging law to include products beyond consumer goods.

Governor Andrew Cuomo extended the eviction moratorium until October 1.

Cuomo also asked lenders to stop  collection of student loan debt and stop mortgage payments for those facing financial hardship. New York strengthened its price gouging law, but not until after the pandemic peaked early in the state.

#8 Maine

Maine scorecard

Maine’s eviction moratorium has already lapsed.

The state’s Attorney General demanded student loan relief from the federal government, but the state still allows high-interest payday loans. And Maine’s governor has pulled the restaurant licenses of a business that violated the state’s order against indoor dining.

Mainers created fewer legal claims per capita than most states, and claims only peaked at 9x their amount before the pandemic.

#9 Rhode Island

Rhode Island Scorecard

Rhode Island’s eviction moratorium has also lapsed.

The RI attorney general enforced its Deceptive Trade Practices Act against companies that changed their policies after the start of the pandemic. Rhode Island’s state legislature introduced a bill that would make it easier for workers to obtain benefits if they presumed to have caught COVID-19 while on the job, but it has been in committee since June.

Rhode Island did not have a law prohibiting unfair & deceptive acts & practices before the pandemic began, but its price gouging regulations and percentage of jobless Rhode Islanders receiving unemployment benefits are better than most other states. Ten Rhode Island businesses have been issued various forms of compliance orders by the state’s COVID-19 Enforcement Task Force for violating public health directives

#10 Minnesota (Tie)

Minnesota scorecard

Minnesota’s eviction moratorium expired on August 12.

Minnesota’s Attorney General Keith Ellison demanded student loan relief from the federal government, but the state still allows high-interest payday loans. Ellison also brought enforcement actions against businesses that defied COVID-19 safety precautions, including a rodeo.

Minnesota had a strong healthcare pricing transparency law in place at the start of the pandemic, and provided unemployment benefits to a higher percentage of jobless Minnesotans than most other states. Minnesota’s Legislature passed a law in April expanding workers’ compensation for first responders who contracted COVID-19, however the easing of restrictions on benefits does not extend to frontline workers in meatpacking and other industries

Minnesotans submit an average number of claims per capita compared to other states, but the amount of claims increased 12 times the baseline during the peak of the pandemic. 

#10 Oregon (Tie)

Oregon scorecard

Oregon had an eviction moratorium in place until September 30.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed a new order to prevent price gouging of essential items at the beginning of the pandemic.

Oregonians without jobs obtained unemployment benefits at a higher rate than most other states before the pandemic began. It is often hard for frontline workers in Oregon who contracted COVID-19 on the job to prove when and where the contact occurred in order to receive workers’ compensation.

Oregonians created slightly more claims per capita than the median state, and claims peaked at nearly 9x their baseline before the pandemic.

Illinois (Honorable Mention)

Illinois scorecard

Illinois had an eviction moratorium in place until August 22.

Illinois had a strong law prohibiting unfair & deceptive acts & practices before the pandemic began. The number of legal claims per capital submitted by Illinoisans increased nearly 10 times the pre-COVID baseline.

Illinois’ attorney general defended the governor’s executive orders to close non-essential businesses against a lawsuit by Chicago business owners. The governor increased penalties for businesses that repeatedly disregard the COVID emergency order.

Bottom 10 States

Map showing the worst states in terms of consumer response to COVID-19

#1 Ohio (Worst)

Ohio scorecard

Ohioans are subject to several laws that put the interests of shareholders, lenders, and landlords before consumers. Many Ohioans’ workers’ compensation claims have been dismissed or denied because of the high burden of proving people became infected at work.

Ohio Attorney General David Yost asked Congress to pass laws to give corporations protection from lawsuits related to the coronavirus pandemic. Ohio did not have a law prohibiting unfair & deceptive acts & practices before pandemic began.

Ohio’s Unauthorized Practice of Law rules prohibit nonlawyers from preparing documents and providing advice on documents, which inadvertently denies Ohians an avenue to access the arbitration system.

#2 Mississippi

Mississippi scorecard

The eviction moratorium in Mississippi has already lapsed.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch asked Congress to pass laws to give corporations protection from lawsuits related to the coronavirus pandemic. The state’s AG filed a lawsuit against China for how they handled the pandemic.

Mississippi did not have a law prohibiting unfair & deceptive acts & practices before pandemic began.

Mississippians created more legal claims per capita than any other state, and sent nearly a hundred times as many claims during the peak of the pandemic as they did before it started.

#3 Alabama

Alabama scorecard

The eviction moratorium in Alabama has already lapsed.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall asked Congress to pass laws to give corporations protection from lawsuits related to the coronavirus pandemic. Alabama did not have a law prohibiting unfair & deceptive acts & practices before pandemic began.

Alabamians created more legal claims per capita than all but four other states, and sent over 46 times as many claims during the peak of the pandemic as they did before it started – the highest increase of any state.

#4 Wyoming

Wyoming scorecard

Wyoming’s eviction moratorium has already lapsed.

In May, the state enacted a law to shield businesses from coronavirus-related negligence lawsuits to encourage them to reopen. Wyoming does not have any laws regulating price gouging or healthcare pricing transparency during states of emergency.

High-interest payday loans are still allowed in Wyoming. Wyomingites created slightly fewer legal claims per capita than the median state, and only five times as many claims during the peak of the pandemic.

Fewer jobless Wyomingites received unemployment benefits before the start of the pandemic, which is a sign of bureaucratic hurdles.

#5 Idaho

Idaho scorecard

Idaho’s eviction moratorium has already lapsed.

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden asked Congress to pass laws to give corporations protection from lawsuits related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Idaho’s price gouging law only applies to certain items like fuel and food, not cleaning supplies, face masks, or toilet paper. Idahoans who catch COVID-19 while working can only obtain workers’ compensation if they can prove the particular time, place, and cause in their workplace that caused them to catch the virus, and work in a position that regularly interacts with infected patients such as healthcare workers.

#6 Oklahoma

Oklahoma scorecard

The eviction moratorium in OK has already lapsed.

Oklahoma enacted a law to shield businesses from coronavirus-related negligence lawsuits to encourage them to reopen. The Sooner State had a law prohibiting price gouging before the pandemic began, but it lacks a law requiring transparency on COVID-19 treatment pricing and allows for high-interest payday loans.

Oklahomans created more legal claims per capita than all but 8 states, with 25 times as many claims during the peak of the pandemic as there were before it began.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt tried to use the coronavirus outbreak emergency to implement a ban on abortions, but it was overturned in the courts.

#7 Louisiana

Louisiana scorecard

The eviction moratorium in LA has already lapsed.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry asked Congress to pass laws to give corporations protection from lawsuits related to the coronavirus pandemic. Louisianans submit more claims per capita than any state’s residents besides Mississippi. The rate at which Louisianans submitted legal claims also increased 11 times their pre-COVID baseline.

Louisiana did not have a law prohibiting unfair & deceptive acts & practices before pandemic began. Louisiana Governor John Edwards obtained a temporary restraining order against a restaurant for excessive non-compliance with the COVID emergency order.

#8 Colorado

Colorado scorecard

Colorado’s eviction moratorium has already lapsed.

Coloradans must prove that they contracted COVID-19 on the job in order to receive benefits, but workers in industries beyond healthcare are eligible. Nearly two-thirds of workers’ compensation claims in Colorado related to COVID-19 have been initially denied.

Colorado did not have laws prohibiting unfair & deceptive practices or price gouging before pandemic began. However, Colorado Gov Jared Polis enacted a broad law prohibiting price gouging across many categories in July.

Colorado’s Attorney General Phil Weiser has announced several investigations into businesses related to their practices around COVID-19. Coloradans submit an average number of legal claims per capita, but their monthly volume increased nearly 20 times when compared to the period before the pandemic.

#9 South Carolina

South Carolina scorecard

The eviction moratorium has already lapsed in South Carolina.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson asked Congress to pass laws to give corporations protection from lawsuits related to the coronavirus pandemic.

South Carolinians submit more cases per capita than the median U.S. state, and claim volume surged to 13 times the state’s baseline during the pandemic.

#10 North Carolina (Tie)

North Carolina scorecard

The eviction moratorium has already lapsed in NC.

Attorney General Josh Stein obtained an injunction against a towing services company that was price gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic. North Carolina enacted a law to shield businesses from coronavirus-related negligence lawsuits to encourage them to reopen.

Only a small percentage of North Carolinians who were unemployed before the pandemic began received jobless benefits. North Carolinians created more legal claims per capita than the median state, increasing nearly eight times at the peak of the pandemic.

#10 Arizona (Tie)

Arizona scorecard

Arizona does have an eviction moratorium in place until October 31st, one of the last set to expire.

However, the state does not have laws prohibiting price gouging or charging high prices in times of emergency or heightened public health concerns.

Arizona bans high-interest payday loans. Arizona’s attorney general issued a cease and desist letter to a company that suggested its air purifier neutralized COVID-19.

Arizonans created more legal claims per capita than the median state, and created 9x as many claims during the peak of the pandemic.

(Dis)honorable mentions

Nebraska

The eviction moratorium in Nebraska has already lapsed.

Nebraska Attorney General Douglas Peterson asked Congress to pass laws to give corporations protection from lawsuits related to the coronavirus pandemic. Nebraska did not have a law prohibiting unfair & deceptive acts & practices before pandemic began.

Very few Nebraskans submit legal claims per capita when compared to other states, and the number of claims only doubled during the pandemic – the smallest increase in FairShake’s data.

Utah

The eviction moratorium in Utah has already lapsed.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes asked Congress to pass laws to give corporations protection from lawsuits related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The rate at which jobless Utahns received unemployment benefits before the pandemic lagged behind most other states. Utahns sent fewer legal claims per capita than most states, but this rate increased 20 times during the peak of the pandemic.

Iowa

The eviction moratorium in Iowa has already lapsed.

Iowa does not have an unfair & deceptive acts & practices law or mandatory transparency on COVID test and treatment costs. However, Iowa did have a strong law regulating price gouging before the pandemic.

The number of legal claims submitted by Iowans surged 31 times its baseline during the pandemic. Iowa recently enacted a safe harbor law that shields any corporation from civil liability for any injuries sustained from exposure or potential exposure to COVID-19 unless they “recklessly disregard a substantial and unnecessary risk”.

Top 10 States by Protection Category

Matrix of top states and their consumer response to COVID-19

Bottom 10 States by Protection Category

Matrix of bottom states and their consumer response to COVID-19

Sources

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