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Updated Student Resources during COVID-19 Pandemic | Lauren Banister

As the second week of spring break begins, I wanted to update the student resources I sent last week and give you some ways to help others during this unprecedented moment. 

As you know, on March 30th, all classes will resume online and students who live on campus are asked to move out throughout this week. 

Here are a few resources to turn to if you need them:

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Here’s how we’re protecting consumers amid the pandemic | Bay Scoggin

The spread of coronavirus across the country is a serious threat to our health and financial security. We here at TexPIRG are working from home and wishing everyone health, calm, and plenty of hand-washing.

During this time, we must ensure that consumers are protected from those who would take advantage of the pandemic situation and that everyone has access to what they need to stay healthy and prevent the spread of this disease. 

The changes occurring to our daily lives and the whole country is overwhelming. We’ll get through it by working together, so we wanted to offer some information on what TexPIRG is working on.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Student resources during COVID-19 | Lauren Banister

As we enter spring break, I wanted to share some important resources as our campuses transition to online classes. 

This change to our daily lives - and the whole country - may feel overwhelming. We’ll get through it together and so we wanted to offer some information for students who may be especially struggling to adjust to this major transition. 

As you are most likely aware, UT Austin has extended it’s spring break an additional week and will resume classes on March 30th. 

TexPIRG is happy to provide the following resources for students during this time.

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Tips

Coronavirus worry triggers most surgical mask, sanitizer prices to spike at least 50% on Amazon

AUSTIN-- Amazon may monitor its marketplace for price gouging, but a new analysis by U.S. PIRG Education Fund has revealed that these checks don’t always succeed in preventing significant price hikes. With so many people worried about Coronavirus, the consumer advocacy organization looked at the prices for two types of increasingly popular products: hand sanitizers and surgical masks.  

Researchers compared the average price for those items over three months to the high price on Amazon since the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency on January 30. As the outbreak became more widespread, the price of most of the sanitizers and masks rose at least 50 percent higher than the 90-day average. Even one in six products sold directly by Amazon -- not third-party vendors using the online marketplace -- saw prices rise at least 50 percent higher in February, as Americans became more aware of the Coronavirus.

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Tips

Coronavirus worry triggers most surgical mask, sanitizer prices to spike at least 50% on Amazon

AUSTIN-- Amazon may monitor its marketplace for price gouging, but a new analysis by U.S. PIRG Education Fund has revealed that these checks don’t always succeed in preventing significant price hikes. With so many people worried about Coronavirus, the consumer advocacy organization looked at the prices for two types of increasingly popular products: hand sanitizers and surgical masks.  

Researchers compared the average price for those items over three months to the high price on Amazon since the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency on January 30. As the outbreak became more widespread, the price of most of the sanitizers and masks rose at least 50 percent higher than the 90-day average. Even one in six products sold directly by Amazon -- not third-party vendors using the online marketplace -- saw prices rise at least 50 percent higher in February, as Americans became more aware of the Coronavirus.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

1 in 10 surveyed daycares still using deadly, recalled infant sleepers

Three months after nearly 5.4 million infant sleepers were recalled for causing 36 infant deaths, a new survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education (U.S. PIRG) and Kids in Danger (KID) revealed that many child care facilities continue to use these dangerous inclined sleepers. The survey began after PIRG Consumer Watchdog Adam Garber discovered that his own son’s daycare in Philadelphia was using the recalled products.

“Every day, millions of parents drop their kids off, assuming their daycares have the information they need to keep their kids safe,” said Garber. “This failed recall is a wakeup call that our current system leaves too many infants at risk from these dangerous sleepers.”

U.S. PIRG and KID blamed the situation on confusing messages about the recall. Initially, a consumer warning for the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play on April 4th linked deaths to infant rollovers, leading some parents and facilities to conclude that proper use would keep babies safe. But a more complete analysis revealed some deaths occurred when the child was buckled in, leading the company and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to fully recall the 4.7 million Rock ‘n Play sleepers soon after on April 14. On April 26, nearly 700,000 units of the Kids II Rocking Sleeper were recalled.

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Media Hit | Transportation

Houston’s $7 billion solution to gridlock is more highways

Like many American cities, Houston is encircled by rings of highways—nine major radial freeways, three ring freeways, and a 180-mile fourth outer ring on the way.

But Houston isn’t just encircled by roads, it’s symbolically, and literally, being choked by cars. It’s consistently ranked as a top city for traffic congestion, ninth-worst for ozone pollution according to the American Lung Association, and a tragic nexus for deaths from car crashes. The annual death toll, according to the Houston Chronicle, is equivalent to “three fully-loaded 737s crashing each year at Houston’s airports, killing all aboard.”

According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the solution is more roads, specifically, a multiyear, multibillion dollar project to widen and expand the city’s highway infrastructure in an attempt to ease persistent bottlenecks that clog downtown traffic.

 

This isn’t a small upgrade: in the name of accelerating commutes, the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) will widen and rebuild nearly 25 miles of highways in the city’s downtown, expanding some to be as wide as the length of two football fields. In addition to years of construction, the “Texas-sized” expansion would displace four houses of worship, two schools, 168 homes, 1,067 multifamily units, and 331 businesses that account for just under 25,000 employees, impacting mostly people of color in low-income neighborhoods.

It would add more impermeable concrete and asphalt infrastructure, plus future maintenance costs, to a city that is still recovering from some of the worst floods in recent memory. Resilience is a serious concern post-Harvey, and as flood maps are updated as flood risks evolve, the addition of concrete to the landscape could make the next storm’s impact worse. Houstonians still recall how highways became channels of water that cut off neighborhoods from aid during the worst of the flooding.

To critics, the I-45 project, named after the main highway that will be impacted, is an urban renewal reboot, a modern version of the freeway expansion projects that wrecked neighborhoods and divided cities in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Why would more urban highways and lanes of traffic—especially at a time when many cities are actively removing or capping their highways—be a foregone conclusion in any effort to mitigate Houston’s serious congestion problem?

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Largest bank hack ever, of Capital One, exposes 100 million to identity theft

Everyone should assume that their social security number has been exposed between this breach and breaches of other major companies’ databases, such as Equifax’s. With that in mind, U.S. PIRG recommends all Americans should use their right by law to freeze their credit reports for free

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Equifax penalty is a “sweetheart deal” that leaves consumers at risk

Our response to Equifax paying a $650 million penalty for exposing the social security numbers of 148 million Americans to identity theft.

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Media Hit | Transportation

Report lists I-45 rebuild project among nation’s biggest highway boondoggles

A massive remake of Interstate 45 from downtown Houston north to the Sam Houston Tollway that would be among the largest road projects in the region’s history also is one of the nation’s biggest highway boondoggles, according to an updated list released Tuesday.

The North Houston Highway Improvement Project — the umbrella term for the entire $7 billion-plus plan to remake Interstate 45 — is listed in the latest installment of unnecessary projects compiled by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Frontier Group. Nine projects across the country made the 2019 list, the fifth annual report from the two groups that have argued for greater transit investment.

“We believe that to fix congestion problems we need to take cars off the road,” said Bay Scoggin, director of the TexPIRG Education Fund, a subset of the national group. “We could do far better investing $7 billion in public transit.”

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Following the Money 2015

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund

Open for Business

Government transparency is a vital part of an inclusive and well-functioning democracy, especially when it comes to how our tax dollars are spent. At all levels – federal, state, and local –governments spending and revenue collection should serve the public benefit. Therefore, it is our right to have the necessary access to information that allows us to be knowledgeable citizens, voters, and participants in our government. This includes information about how our state is spending its’ money.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

The Innovative Transportation Index

This report reviews the availability of 11 technology-enabled transportation services – including online ridesourcing, carsharing, ridesharing, taxi hailing, static and real-time transit information, multi-modal apps, and virtual transit ticketing – in 70 U.S. cities. It finds that residents of 19 cities, with a combined population of nearly 28 million people, have access to eight or more of these services, with other cities catching up rapidly.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2014

Among the toys surveyed this year, we found numerous choking hazards and five toys with concentrations of toxics exceeding federal standards. In addition to reporting on potentially hazardous products found in stores in 2014, this installment of the report describes the potential hazards in toys and children’s products.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund and Demos | Democracy

The Dominance of Big Money in the 2014 Congressional Elections

In 2014, large donors accounted for the vast majority of all individual federal election contributions this cycle, just as they have in previous elections. Seven of every 10 individual contribution dollars to the federal candidates, parties, PACs and Super PACs that were active in the 2013-2014 election cycle came from donors who gave $200 or more. Candidates alone got 84 percent of their individual contributions from large donors.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Millennials Want More Public Transportation

A new poll shows that access to public transportation is “very important” for Millennials in considering where to live and where to work.  The results support our research over the past few years that found Millennials are driving less than older generations and are more prone to walk, bike, or take transit to get where they need to go.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

The CFPB is 4 years old and has a lot to show for it! | Ed Mierzwinski

Tuesday, July 21, marks four years to the day since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau opened its doors to protect consumers and make financial markets work. We've summarized some of the ways CFPB works for you on a new web page.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How the CFPB’s Data Keeps Getting Better and Better | Mike Litt

As the CFPB turns 4 years old on July 21, here is some information on how it works for you and how we at PIRG use its data to produce reports, such as our new report on mortgage complaints to the CFPB. We've also got some photos from the Americans for Financial Reform "CFPB at 4" event.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Event 5/11 re new book on black box decisionmaking & consumers | Ed Mierzwinski

UPDATED TO CONFIRM CFPB Speaker. We are hosting an event Monday, 5/11, from 9am-noon ET to discuss a new book, The Black Box Society, with author Frank Pasquale. Click Keep Reading to RSVP to attend in person or to watch the livestream. While credit bureaus have long functioned as black box gatekeepers to opportunity, panelists will discuss the growing use of more and more, even less transparent black boxes to categorize consumers in the digital economy.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Begins Payday Regulation Push In Richmond | Ed Mierzwinski

We joined the CFPB in Richmond Thursday for a field hearing on a proposed rule to regulate payday lending and similar high-cost short-term loans. The CFPB's draft rule is comprehensive, covering a variety of loans, but it contains potential loopholes that we and other advocates will urge the bureau to close before it finalizes this important effort. Here's a short blog with some photos from Richmond.

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Blog Post

Whether you have a loved one currently in a nursing home or rehabilitation facility, or whether you’re shopping for one, you should arm yourself with a list of questions to gauge how safe the environment is. Here’s a guide to those questions, and the answers you should expect.

Blog Post

The FDA allows cosmetic companies to hide toxic fragrance ingredients from consumers. But this fall, California passed a landmark bill to change this.

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund

As Texans head to the grocery store to purchase their Thanksgiving turkeys, TexPIRG has released its first ever “Talking Turkey” guide to purchasing turkeys raised without overusing antibiotics. Turkey producers use more medically important antibiotics per pound of meat produced than any other sector of the meat industry, and studies have shown that routine use of antibiotics in meat production can lead to an increase in antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.” 

 

“Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this holiday season might look and feel different, but one thing will remain the same -- Americans will eat turkeys for Thanksgiving,” said Bay Scoggin TexPIRG’s Director. “Consumers can drive change and protect public health by buying turkeys raised without overusing antibiotics.”

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund

TexPIRG Education Fund’s Trouble in Toyland report has helped identify dangerous toys for 35 years. But 2020 is unique, and as Americans have worked, learned and played from home to protect themselves from COVID-19, children could be more susceptible to certain toy-related hazards. 

“This has been an incredibly difficult year, and parents and caregivers are overwhelmed. They might do a quick search online for a toy to entertain their kids and trust that manufacturers and online vendors are guaranteeing their safety. This isn’t always the case, so parents need to be on guard,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Education Fund’s Director.

Report

Thousands of nursing homes nationwide are dealing with horrific shortages of masks, gowns and other items they need to protect residents, workers and the broader community from COVID-19. And seven months into this pandemic, the shortages have actually become much worse.

At any given time, about 1.3 million people with long-term medical issues or short-term rehabilitation needs are residing in the nation’s 15,000 nursing homes. And too many of them are at risk, according to an analysis of government data by the TexPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group.

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