Building a Better World, Together

Seven consumer issues being championed in Congress

Image collage with U.S. Capitol Photo Illustration: Lacey Browne/Consumer Reports, iStock

Millions of Americans will tune in to hear President Joe Biden deliver his first formal address to Congress this week.

In its first 100 days, the Biden administration has been pushing for a wide range of initiatives, including the broad COVID-19 relief package that was signed into law last month, as well as a massive infrastructure plan. The president has also indicated support for a range of reforms related to key consumer concerns such as climate change and “forever chemicals” in water.

“Congress and the Biden administration have the opportunity to build a marketplace that puts the power back into the hands of the American consumer,” says Anna Laitin, director of financial fairness and legislative strategy at Consumer Reports. “We look forward to working with the administration and with lawmakers across the political spectrum to raise the bar for the safety of the cars we drive and the food we eat, eliminate the worst predatory and deceptive practices that target financially fragile families, heed the call from consumers to stop climate change and improve air quality, and ensure that every consumer has broadband internet access, with more control over the privacy of their information.”

Here are seven issues that CR is championing with you to advance a fair and just marketplace for all consumers.

Cut Road Deaths in Half

The problem: Half—yes, half—of the approximately 36,000 lives lost each year in U.S. road crashes could be saved if all U.S. cars were equipped with already existing auto safety technologies, a CR analysis has shown. Yet some automakers continue to sell some of these technologies, including ones known to reduce crash and fatality risks, as part of luxury trims or add-on packages along with features such as premium sound systems and sunroofs.

How to tackle it: A federal law requiring that all new vehicles come equipped with existing lifesaving technology.

47% of Americans who don’t own or lease a vehicle with a blind-spot warning system would get one with that feature if they were in the market for a new vehicle.
Source: March 2020 American Experiences Survey, a CR nationally representative survey of 1,079 U.S. adults.

How you can make a difference: If you’re buying a car, new or used, select one equipped with proven safety systems; for help, consult CR’s Guide to Cars With Advanced Safety Systems. And sign CR’s petition calling on automakers to make advanced safety features standard on all their vehicles—and stop charging hundreds to thousands of dollars extra for them.

Get PFAS out of Our Food and Water

The problem: Known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t easily break down in the environment or the human body, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances—PFAS, for short—are used in food packaging, nonstick cookware, stain- and water-resistant clothing and household furnishings, and elsewhere.

While only a few of the almost 5,000 types of PFAS have been closely studied, many have already been linked to negative health effects, including decreased fertility, weakened immune systems, increased risk of certain cancers, and low infant birth weights.

How to tackle it: An important first step would be banning the use of PFAS chemicals in food packaging and establishing a national drinking water standard for PFAS. Recent studies by CR and the FDA, among others, have found these worrisome compounds in drinking water, some brands of bottled water, and packaged food sold around the country, including in produce, meat, seafood, and dairy products.

41% of Americans with municipal home tap water agree or strongly agree that they are concerned about its safety.
Source: April/May 2019 CR nationally representative survey of 4,225 U.S. adults.

How you can make a difference: Sign the CR petition demanding that an enforceable standard that protects children and vulnerable people be established immediately—and ask the companies you buy from whether their products use PFAS chemicals.

Protect Our Digital Privacy and Security

The problem: Although privacy is a basic human right, and one enshrined in American law, this right is routinely violated in today’s consumer marketplace. A handful of corporate giants collect huge amounts of our personal and social data, which they store, share, and use to filter the information we see—and to push us toward choices that benefit their interests.

Yet only two states, California and Virginia, currently have laws that guarantee basic online privacy and security protections.

How to tackle it: A strong, federal online privacy and data security law that gives consumers control over the use of their personal data and prohibits companies from engaging in the most privacy-invasive behaviors.

Such a law would, among other things, limit the data a company could collect and share to what’s necessary to provide the service requested; give consumers the right to access, correct, transfer, and delete information about them; prohibit companies from charging consumers more for exercising their privacy rights; and ensure that consumers are able to hold companies accountable for violating their rights and that government agencies have the resources and authority to enforce the law.

81% of Americans are somewhat or very concerned with online platforms collecting their data to build a comprehensive profile of them.
Source: July 2020 CR nationally representative survey of 3,219 U.S. adults.

How you can make a difference: Create a personalized privacy and data security plan using CR’s Security Planner. Encourage your state legislators to use CR'S Model State Privacy Act to create a law prohibiting companies from engaging in privacy-invasive behaviors. And sign CR’s petition encouraging the U.S. Congress to pass a strong federal privacy law.

Close the Digital Divide

The problem: With millions of Americans relying on internet connections for food, healthcare, education, and work, the COVID-19 crisis has made it starkly clear that broadband service is a basic necessity, not a luxury.

Yet it remains inaccessible to too many Americans. Many rural areas lack the necessary infrastructure. And in many urban areas, a dearth of competition among providers has allowed the cost of service to increase, shutting out some of the most financially vulnerable Americans. Almost half of low-income households don’t have an internet connection.

The December 2020 COVID-19 relief package included some measures aimed at the “digital divide” between those who can access the internet and those who can’t. It included up to $50 per month in internet assistance to low-income households and those affected by the pandemic. And the American Rescue Plan, passed last month, included more than $7 billion for a Federal Communications Commission program to establish an emergency fund to help schools and libraries provide digital resources such as connected devices, internet service, and hotspots to students and teachers for internet use at home.

But closing the digital divide will require more fundamental change.

How to tackle it: Pass the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, introduced in March by Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., in the House and by Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., in the Senate. The measure would, among other things, commit billions of dollars to building high-speed broadband infrastructure nationwide, ensure that affordable plans are widely available, and extend discounts and vouchers for low-income Americans.

76% of Americans agree or strongly agree that internet service is as important as electricity or water service.
Source: February 2021 Consumer Reports American Experiences Survey (PDF), a CR nationally representative survey of 2,514 U.S. adults.

How you can make a difference: Sign CR’s petition to urge your representatives in the House and Senate to make sure high-speed internet is affordable to all Americans by passing the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act.

Stop Companies From Nickel and Diming Us With Unnecessary Hidden Fees

The problem: American consumers are being hit with an unprecedented number of fees. And they often appear in unexpected and even deceptive ways: hidden in the fine print, disguised as a reasonable sounding tax, or disclosed just before—or even after—we make a purchase. These charges can add up to thousands of dollars a year in extra costs for a typical American family, posing an enormous financial strain, undermining our ability to make smart financial choices, and making effective budgeting almost impossible.

How to tackle it: The FTC already has the authority to ban the worst of these practices. But Congress should pass legislation requiring all-in pricing in all marketplaces—including hotels and online event ticket sales, where hidden fees proliferate—and direct the FTC to vigorously enforce the law. The template was set in early 2020 when a federal law was passed preventing cable operators from charging certain fees and requiring them to disclose the total monthly price of your TV bill when you sign up for service.

At least 85% of Americans have encountered an unexpected or hidden fee for a service they’ve used.
Source: October 2018 CR nationally representative survey of 2,057 U.S. adults.

How you can make a difference: Learn how to protect yourself from hidden fees, and sign CR’s petition demanding that the travel and entertainment industries end their sneaky fees.

Make Credit Reporting Fair, Accurate, and Transparent

The problem: Your credit report can make or break your financial future, potentially determining whether you get a home loan, affordable auto insurance, or even a job. But credit reports frequently contain errors. A landmark 2013 report by the Federal Trade Commission found that 1 in 5 contained a verified error and that 1 in 20 had an error significant enough to cause credit to be denied or offered at a higher cost.

And the COVID-19 crisis is only making the problem worse, causing many households to fall behind on bills through no fault of their own, even as some lenders have been found to mistakenly report loan deferrals—contrary to provisions in the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act intended to shield consumer credit reports during the pandemic.

How to tackle it: Pass the Comprehensive Credit Rating Enhancement, Disclosure, Innovation, and Transparency (CREDIT) Act of 2020 (PDF), which made it through the House last year. Among other things, it would reform the dispute process to make it easier for consumers to fix errors on their credit reports, shorten the time that adverse information stays on a credit report from seven years to four years, and strengthen the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s authority to monitor credit scoring models.

12% of Americans who have ever checked their credit report say they found at least one error in their credit report the last time they checked.
Source: January 2021 Consumer Reports American Experiences Survey (PDF), a CR nationally representative survey of 2,223 U.S. adults.

How you can make a difference: Have you found errors on your credit report and tried to fix them? If so, share your story with us. It could help us to hold the major credit agencies accountable and to urge legislators to pass the Comprehensive CREDIT Act. Also, see our tips for how to correct errors on your credit report.

Make Electric Vehicles More Accessible to More Americans

The problem: The transportation sector is the largest contributor of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for about 28 percent of the total—and about 60 percent of that amount is from light-duty vehicles, the kind typically driven by ordinary consumers.

How to tackle it: Make it easier for Americans to afford cleaner, money-saving cars. Mainstream electric vehicles can already save consumers thousands of dollars, but they aren’t accessible to everyone, especially because of a lack of investment in the infrastructure needed to keep them charged. But Congress can change that by providing refundable tax rebates to consumers who buy electric vehicles (EVs) and helping to fund charging stations and other EV infrastructure.

71% of Americans with a driver’s license expressed at least some interest in getting an electric vehicle.
Source: July/August 2020 CR nationally representative survey (PDF). Question asked of 3,392 U.S. adult drivers over the age of 18.

How you can make a difference: Send a message right now to your members of Congress to support investments in the money-saving electric vehicles and infrastructure needed to clean up our air and improve our health. And use CR’s new Green Choice designation to help you choose from the lowest polluting cars on the market today.