The state has received over 5,500 price gouging complaints since this pandemic began, according to Attorney General Letitia James's office.
Both legislative houses passed a bill on Wednesday that would increase penalties for price gouging and would expand the law to protect not just consumers, but also the government.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed flaws in the state price gouging statute and this legislation will go a long way to ensure that New Yorkers have access to the products and care required without paying excessive and unreasonable prices,”Assemblywoman Nily Rozic said. “While we continue to work to contain the spread of disease, we must protect consumers when they are particularly vulnerable.
The existing law prohibits companies from increasing prices on "consumer goods and services" sold directly to the consumer during a health emergency. However, loopholes in the law allowed for price gouging when it came to non-consumer goods such as surgical masks and gloves and when it came to selling to institutions. Now the law would prohibit dramatic price increases on supplies like PPE, when the state is also trying to purchase these goods.
“It is vitally important that the state has all the necessary tools to protect New Yorkers against those seeking to take advantage of this pandemic,” James said. “This common-sense measure will enable my office to better protect consumers, small businesses, health care providers, and even the state from price gouging."
According to the AG's office, in April, New York paid up to 20 times the normal amount for medical supplies like gloves and masks. Several hospitals were also forced to pay $8.00 for masks that typically cost around 50 cents, and $25 for protective face masks that typically cost $1.25.
“Virus profiteers and scam artists tried to rip off New Yorkers, selling medical supplies at sky-high prices to desperate hospitals and local governments," Senator Brad Hoylman said. "It’s unconscionable that someone would use the COVID-19 crisis as a way to make a quick buck. That’s why I introduced this bill to expand our price gouging statute, protecting more New Yorkers than ever from these rip-off schemes."
The bill would also increase the maximum penalty for price gouging to $25,000 per violation.
This anti-price gouging legislation has passed both houses and now goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk for his consideration.