CFA News Update- February 11, 2011

FCC Urged To Proceed with Bill Shock Rules

Consumer groups reiterated their support for strong rules to prevent wireless “bill shock” in reply comments submitted earlier this week to the Federal Communications Commission. The comments refute arguments put forward by industry members in opposition to the proposed rule. Contrary to industry claims, the rules are both necessary and feasible, the groups argue. “Avoiding complaints about unexpectedly high wireless bills is good for the carriers as well as consumers,” said CFA Director of Consumer Protection Susan Grant.

Report Offers Pro-Consumer Plan for Housing Finance Reform

As the new congressional session gets underway, House Republican leaders have made clear that housing finance issues will be near the top of their agenda. In late January, the Center for American Progress released a report prepared by the Mortgage Finance Working Group that presents a pro-consumer plan to reform the U.S. secondary market for residential mortgages.

With an eye toward moving “away from our current nationalized mortgage finance system” and toward a system “that once again relies on private-sector capital … to provide the bulk of mortgage finance for American homeowners and owners of rental property,” the report outlines three specific goals that policies in this area should seek to achieve:

• Preserving the availability of 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, which allow families to fix their housing costs and thus better plan for their futures in an ever more volatile economy;

• Rebalancing U.S. housing policy so that private markets are the primary source of decent affordable rental housing, with public support where deep subsidy is needed; and

• Ensuring that a broad array of large and small mortgage lenders (such as community banks, credit unions, and Community Development Financial Institutions) have access to secondary market finance so that they can continue to provide single- and multifamily mortgage loans in every community across our country.

“As Congress begins considering how to restructure the mortgage finance system the most important objectives remain preservation of long-term fixed rate financing for consumers; access by institutions of all types and sizes, especially smaller community banks and credit unions; and a focus on supporting affordable housing across all sectors of the housing market,” said CFA Director of Housing Policy Barry Zigas, who participated as a member of the Mortgage Finance Working Group. “The MFWG’s paper stresses the importance of these goals. It also calls for a sharp focus on providing affordable financing for both homeownership and rental housing. It offers a sensible and progressive way to meet the challenge of restructuring the system.”

Vigorous Implementation of Food Safety Law is Needed

As the Food and Drug Administration begins the laborious process of implementing the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA), passed at the end of the last Congress, the agency must move quickly to develop multiple new rules, guidance documents, and reports to Congress. Director of CFA’s Food Policy Institute Chris Waldrop discussed the FDA’s expanded role in ensuring safe food at a discussion forum late last month sponsored by the National Academies of Science.

“The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act grants the agency important new authorities to better protect consumers from foodborne disease. Without quick, coherent, complete implementation of the Act, the new powers are meaningless,” he said. While consumer groups “were some of the most vigorous supporters of the FSMA,” Waldrop added, their “continued support for the law and for helping the agency secure sufficient resources … depends in large part on the vigor and integrity of the implementation process…It is absolutely critical that the process is open and transparent with multiple opportunities for public participation in the agency’s decision-making.”

Online Privacy Protections Need Improvement

A recent Commerce Department study on Commercial Data and Innovation in the Internet Economy recognizes the importance of strong commercial data privacy protections, but “misses the mark,” both in how it characterizes the current state of consumer privacy and in its recommendations for how to strengthen privacy protections, according to a comment letter filed with the agency by CFA late last month. The comment letter provides suggestions how to address the urgent need to improve consumer online privacy protection. “We are pleased that the Department of Commerce recognizes that addressing consumers’ privacy concerns is crucial for the growth of ecommerce, but the solution it proposes – more self-regulation – is not enough to provide meaningful privacy protection” Grant said.