National Consumers League

From the Experts Blog

NCL staff is hard at work for you playing watchdog on a variety of issues. Get to know the latest From the Experts!

Remembering Howard Metzenbaum (1917-2008)

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

The National Consumers League and its allies in the consumer advocacy world lost a friend and icon last week: U.S. Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH), who supported the work of the Child Labor Coalition as a Senate Advisor. Metzenbaum championed the rights of consumers and workers in Congress and was beloved by consumer and labor leaders alike. For example, to protect workers from the disruption of plant closings and loss of jobs, Metzenbaum authored a law requiring 60 days’ notice before a company could shut down a plant.

Metz, as he was called, never shied away from a fight – often infuriating the conservatives in Congress. And when he retired from the Senate, he agreed to serve as Chairman of the Consumer Federation of America. Lucky CFA! I would be hard-pressed to name another Senator whose name is so synonymous with consumer rights and protections. For Metzenbaum, there were no sacred cows - he went after big oil, the insurance and pharmaceutical industry, banks, in his nearly twenty years of service. He also championed the campaign for universal health insurance, an issue with as much (perhaps more) urgency today as it had back in the 1980s.

During my decade with Consumers Union, I worked with many former Metzenbaum staffers and the Senator himself. He reviewed the resumes of applicants for CU’s Esther Peterson Public Interest Fellowship, and I worked on vetting aspiring consumer advocates for that program. They share common traits that I see in many consumer colleagues: indefatigable advocacy for consumer issues in Congress and in the federal agencies and an unwillingness to take “no” for an answer when consumer rights and protections are at stake, even when the deck is stacked against them.

Senator Howard Metzenbaum, vocal and fearless consumer advocates in Congress are a rare breed and we will miss you.

Great Youth Educational Resource:

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director I had the opportunity to travel up to New York City last Friday with dsc01258_edited.jpgNCL Board member Sam Simon to attend the unveiling of the Verizon Foundation’s new educational Web site. The event was part of the New York’s public television station’s (WNET) Celebration of Teaching and Learning conference. And what better way to spend the last day of National Consumer Protection Week than celebrating our friend and avid LifeSmarts’ partners’ own initiative aimed at K-12 graders. Here I am (in the photo on the right), between our hosts: Kathy Brown, Senior Vice President, Public Policy Development and Corporate Social Responsibility and Patrick Gaston, President of the Verizon Foundation. The conference featured luminaries such as ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, renowned primatologist Jane Goodall, and NBC News anchor and correspondent, Ann Curry. The press conference highlighted an enhanced - the Verizon Foundation's free, comprehensive program and online portal to 55,000 educational and literacy resources for teachers, parents and students. The site features lesson plans and interactive activities, and the ability for users to search for resources tailored to individual state standards. Sam and I were impressed by the many resources offered to students and teachers by the site. The National Consumers League shares Verizon Foundation’s commitment to educating young consumers through groundbreaking new technologies and looks forward to our continued work with the Foundation. The site offers valuable content for students and teachers alike, and we encourage everyone to check it out.

Purple: The New Green?

Today we learned that the 5 dollar bill is the first to5_vertical_new.jpg get a makeover by the Federal Reserve in attempts to thwart counterfeiters. Honest Abe is still the bill's main attraction, but he's surrounded by some new security features that will make faking it more difficult, including new watermarks and changes to that little security "thread" that's woven into the bill.

More obvious than these differences, perhaps, are the numerous splashes of purple across the bill. But the color changes aren't for security reasons - they're meant to help people with visual impairments have an easier time using the money. According to an LA Times article, we should start seeing these new bills pretty quickly, as more than 200 million of them will be released in the next three weeks!

Game On!

NCL's staff is working away to prepare for our annual LifeSmarts National Championship this year from April 12-15. This year, we're heading to Minneapolis, MN, LifeSmarts Program Director, Lisa Hertzberg's hometown! The League runs the LifeSmarts program, which tests thousands of middle school and high school students nationwide on real-life consumer issues through online quizzes and live contests. High school state champs from across the nation will show off their consumer smarts on personal finance, health and safety, environment, technology and consumer rights and responsibilities April 12-15 as they compete for the national title. Here's a peek into the fun: Saturday, April 12 Teams from across the nation check-in at the hotel, go through orientation, where they get their first glimpse of the competition, and are briefed on the rules. Later that evening, the teams get to let loose at the mixer. Sunday, April 13 Competition begins. Months of studying and honing their skills through online and in-person come in handy. Monday, April 14 The competition heats up! Teams compete until only four teams are standing. Later in the day, the teams take a break from competing and take in the local scene on a fun outing. Tuesday, April 15 The competition comes down to the quarterfinals and semifinals, until the only team standing is named the 2008 LifeSmarts National Champion! The champion team receives its prizes at the Awards Banquet. We wanted to send a huge thank you to our sponsors, state coordinators, coaches and volunteers who make the LifeSmarts program all that it is! Check out the news coverage the teams have received so far, and be sure to visit to cheer on the teams during Nationals!

Strapped for cash? Join the club!

Times are tight. Seems like you can't turn on the TV, open a newspaper, or connect to the Internet without seeing news reports about consumer bankruptcies and concerns about a recession.

Lately, we’ve been hearing about consumers being so strapped for cash that they’re tapping into their 401(k) or other retirement accounts. Our friends at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the largest non-governmental regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States, are noticing this trend too. They’re reminding consumers to research the terms of any 401 (k) loan agreement you’re considering, including the interest rate, any fees, and other applicable terms before drawing on these accounts.

As a last resort, you may want to look into whether you qualify for a hardship withdrawal from your 401(k). This is not a quick fix; you have to apply to prove your hardship, you probably won’t have access to contributions by your employer, and there are other fine-print-type details. Read more to find out more about how this works.

Yikes! You know the economy's getting rough when people are using their retirement cash to pay for gas and other bills. We’ll keep our ear out for more information on this trend and continue to provide you with as many money-saving tips as we can.