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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget

A Step In The Right Direction: Appropriations Bill Roots Out Some Waste, but Doesn’t Do Enough To Protect Public Priorities and End Special Interest Handouts

Statement of U.S. PIRG Tax and Budget Associate Jaimie Woo on the Bipartisan Omnibus Appropriations Bill passed by the House of Representatives. 

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Media Hit | Budget

Congress Sheds Light On Government Waste

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee discussed ways to reduce government waste at a hearing Thursday, with a group of think tanks offering recommendations that ranged from cutting military programs to stopping aid to states.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Report: Capital One Most-Complained-About Credit Card Company

WASHINGTON – Consumers file more complaints about Capital One than any other credit card company, according to a report released today by U.S. PIRG Education Fund. The report, which looked at data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) public Consumer Complaints Database, also found that consumers in the District of Columbia and Delaware are most likely to file credit card complaints.

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Federal Consumer Agency Ponders Its Next Crusades

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has already overcome considerable political resistance, has managed to pack some punches in the last few months on behalf of the purchasing public it represents.[...] Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the United States Public Interest Research Group, said this might be the single most important issue on the agency’s agenda. “The biggest thing we are hoping for in 2014 is to finish or at least make major progress with the arbitration rule and ban forced arbitration in consumer contracts,” he said. “In many of these cases you are ripped off for $10 or $100 each. But millions of consumers are ripped off. That’s why we think it’s a very big deal.”

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Target says "Oops, 70-110 million consumers hacked." | Ed Mierzwinski

Target is now saying that "a range of 70 million to 110 million people," not the original 40 million customers, had their credit or debit card numbers hacked in December. Even worse, Target is admitting that the database stolen included email addresses and phone numbers, which leaves consumers vulnerable to phishing attacks that could lead to identity theft, as if fraud on existing accounts wasn't enough. Here are some tips.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Higher Ed

Federal Government Makes Billions from Student Loan Borrowers Yearly

Today, a coalition of youth and student groups released an issue brief demonstrating that the federal government is making billions in revenue through the federal student loan program. The report projects that student loans will generate over $36 billion in revenue in 2013, in part because of a scheduled July 1 doubling of Stafford loan interest rates.

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Media Hit | Higher Ed

New York Times: Student Loan Rate Set to Rise, Despite Lack of Support

“Higher education loans are meant to subsidize the cost of higher education, not profit from them, especially at a time when students are facing record debt,” said Ethan Senack, the higher education advocate at the United States Public Interest Research Group.

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

CFPB Ends Kickbacks by Mortgage Insurers

U.S. PIRG applauds CFPB’s enforcement action, including over $15 million in total penalties, against four mortgage insurers to end the practice of giving kickbacks to mortgage companies to get their business.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Tax

Offshore Tax Havens Cost Average Taxpayer $1,026 a Year, Small Businesses $3,067

With Tax Day approaching, it’s a good time to be reminded of where our tax dollars are going. U.S. PIRG released a new study which revealed that the average taxpayer in 2012 would have to shoulder an extra $1,026 in taxes to make up for the revenue lost due to the use of offshore tax havens by corporations and wealthy individuals. The report also found that the average small business would have to pay $3,067 to cover the cost of offshore tax dodging by large corporations.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Consider ASCE Report Card in Light of Stimulus Repairs and Reduced Driving

Statement by Phineas Baxandall, U.S. PIRG Senior Analyst, explaining how reactions American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) report card for America’s infrastructure should be interpreted in light of: (1) the short-term federal assistance from stimulus funds that have since expired; and (2) a persistent trend by Americans toward driving less.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

ATM Fee Backlash

The ATM surcharge has more than doubled the cost to consumers for using foreign ATMs. The surcharge contributes dramatically to the profits of ATM owners, lessens the benefit to consumers of shared ATM networks and encourages the growth of bigger banks.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Show Me The Money

This report updates a 1998 CFA survey on the consumer costs of payday lending and includes a survey of 230 payday lenders found in 20 states. It finds that payday lenders continue to make short term consumer loans of $100-400 at legal interest rates of 390-871% in states where payday lending is allowed. More disturbingly, the report finds that payday lenders are exploiting new partnerships with national banks to make payday loans in states, such as Virginia, where the loans are otherwise prohibited by usury ceilings or other regulations.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Big Banks, Bigger Fees 1999

Over 12 million American families can't afford bank accounts. The rest of us are paying too much, especially if we bank at big banks. Meanwhile, in 1998 banks recorded nearly $62 billion in profits, an eighth straight record year.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Dirty Dollars, Dirty Air

This report documents the influence of the auto and oil industry on public policy and debates surrounding the control of pollution that causes smog, soot and global warming. It tracks the amount of campaign contributions made by the 164 largest companies in the automobile and oil industries and how those contributions influenced members of Congress on clean air issues.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Pushing The Limit

At least five proposals to increase limits on contributions by individuals to congressional candidates -- either as stand-alone measures or as part of a package of campaign finance measures -- have been floated by important political groups and individuals in the past year. The following paper analyzes the likely impact of these proposals on which candidates get elected and on the power of wealthy interests vs. the general public in governmental decision making.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Watch for fake 5.0 user ratings on merchant sites; and watch out for efforts by doctors, others to block real ratings, too | Ed Mierzwinski

Some user reviews on the Internet are written by sockpuppets paid by the website; in other cases, consumers are given inducements to write good reviews (New York Times). Meanwhile, doctors, especially, are trying to use copyright law to "squelch" valid reviews from patients (Washington Post). Either way, watch out.

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Blog Post | Public Health

Supreme Court Puts Sick Cows Back on the Menu

On Monday the Supreme Court overturned a California law that required the euthanization of downed livestock at federally inspected slaughterhouses to keep this meat out of the nation’s food system.

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Blog Post | Tax

What Do Jon Stewart, Elizabeth Warren, and Barack Obama Have In Common? | Dan Smith

All three of them spoke out this week against corporate tax dodging.

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama called for an economy where “everyone plays by the same set of rules” and where companies can’t avoid taxes by shifting profits overseas. That same night, Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren went on the Daily Show and called out 30 corporations that a recent U.S. PIRG and Citizens for Tax Justice study found paid more to lobby Congress than they did in federal income taxes. When Warren told this to John Stewart on the Daily Show, it made the usually unflappable comedian’s jaw drop.

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Blog Post | Tax

The "Dirty Thirty" Corporations that Spend More on Lobbying than Taxes | Phineas Baxandall

Two years ago the Supreme Court's misguided Citizens United decision struck down long-standing Congressional limits on the political power of large corporations by vastly expanding the legal metaphor that "corporations are people." Now there is fresh evidence that corporate influence over Congress makes it easy for those same corporations to avoid their civic duty of paying taxes.

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Blog Post | Higher Ed

Obama's New Consumer Finance Chief Can Lower Student Debt | Rich Williams

President Obama took a bold and important step this week, standing up for student consumers by making a recess appointment of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The president's action means that the CFPB now has all its powers to protect students from unfair financial practices that pile on student debt, including lenders offering dangerously expensive private student loans and aggressive credit and debit card marketing.

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Priority Action

The overuse of antibiotics on factory farms is threatening these lifesaving medicines. Call on big restaurants to do their part and stop buying meat raised with critical antibiotics.

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