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Hochul: Additional actions to provide financial relief to people in WNY


Tue, Dec 27th 2022 01:25 pm

New York State Department of Financial Services calls on banking institutions to waive ATM fees

√ New Yorkers encouraged to call DFS' disaster hotline at 800-339-1759 for insurance-related questions

√ Governor warns about price gouging during and in aftermath of historic storm

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday announced additional actions to provide financial relief to New Yorkers in the Western and North Country regions in the aftermath of this weekend's historic winter storm, part of the state's ongoing efforts to address the historic winter storm that has caused statewide devastation.

The New York State Department of Financial Services called on state-chartered banking organizations, federally chartered banks, and credit unions operating in the areas to provide fee-free services to nearby customers and non-customers while travel conditions remain dangerous.

Hochul’s team said, “Allowing customers to access essential banking services, even if they do not have a relationship with that institution, will limit the need for travel while ensuring that New Yorkers impacted by the storm can access critical financial services. Such relief may include waiving ATM fees, increasing ATM cash withdrawal limits, or easing restrictions on cashing non-customer checks.”

Hochul said, "We are using every tool at our disposal to provide New Yorkers, homeowners and small businesses – the backbone of our economy – with relief during this historic winter storm, and encourage people to stay home. As we await the end of this storm, this new guidance will ensure that New Yorkers can safely access financial services without traveling in these dangerous conditions. My administration will continue to take action to ease the financial burden on New Yorkers who have felt the impact of this tragic storm."

The Department of Financial Services is issuing temporary adjuster permits to qualified out-of-state independent insurance adjusters in order to expedite insurance claims in light of the winter storm. Expediting permits will increase the number of adjusters available to process claims and help New Yorkers get their claims paid faster. Insurers are encouraged to make any necessary applications on the DFS website.

Hochul’s team said, “Due to the severity of the winter storm and extent of damage to homeowners and small businesses, it is imperative that the insurance industry work towards a fair and speedy resolution of all claims and provide the necessary resources to do so.”

New York State Department of Financial Services Superintendent Adrienne A. Harris said, "During this unprecedented storm, DFS has taken action to increase safe access to financial services for impacted residents and businesses. We will continue to monitor the situation and work closely with regulated institutions, fellow state agencies, and local partners to support communities during this difficult time."

New York Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez said, "It is unconscionable, not to mention illegal, for businesses to take advantage of their customers with price-gouging after they've been hit with a devastating winter storm and desperately trying to recover. Consumers do not have to do this on their own, which is why the Division of Consumer Protection is urging consumers to file a complaint so, together, we can fight this illegal activity."

Additionally, Hochul warned New Yorkers in Western New York and the North Country to be cautious of and report price-gouging. Her team said, “Price-gouging occurs when a business takes advantage of consumers during an emergency declaration and sells essential goods or services in the affected area for an excessive price.

“Any New Yorker who sees excessively priced consumer goods or services used primarily for personal, family, or household purposes should file a complaint with the New York State Division of Consumer Protection on the Department of State website. Consumers can call the consumer helpline at 1-800-697-1220 with questions or for additional assistance.”

Unconscionably Excessive Price’

Per Hochul’s team:

While the law specifically states an "unconscionably excessive price" is a question of law for a court to decide, a price is likely to be found "unconscionably excessive" if:

•The price being charged by the seller during the extreme weather or public health event is grossly greater than the price charged immediately prior to the onset of the extreme weather event by that same seller.

•The price being charged during the extreme weather or public health event grossly exceeds the price for the same or similar goods and services readily obtainable in the affected area by other consumers.

Price-Gouging Examples

A: Hotels in the area within a governor's state of emergency typically offer rooms in the price range of $79-$159 a night during the spring season. After the storm event, Hotel X, which normally offered rooms for $119 a night, increased its prices to $229 a night. An approximately 90% increase in price affords Hotel X the opportunity of extreme profits under severe circumstances.

B: Local hardware store sold 50-pound bags of sand for $25 prior to the storm. A governor's state of emergency was put in place. The local lake began rising, flooding surrounding homes, and the same bags of sand were now selling for $50 a bag, double the price. The big box store 10 miles away continued to offer the bags of sand for $25. Hotel X and the local hardware store appear to be engaged in price-gouging.

Consumer Response to Price-Gouging

Hochul’s team said, “If you are in a governor-declared state of emergency-affected community and see or personally experience price-gouging, the division encourages you to report it by filing a complaint. When reporting, be prepared to provide details of the alleged price-gouging to include the location of the merchant and any available proof of the excessive price(s), such as receipts or pictures.

“The division's consumer assistance unit will review the complaint and, if appropriate, engage in voluntary mediation on behalf of the consumer or refer the complaint to the Office of Attorney General to initiate an enforcement action. In either instance, the division will keep the consumer informed of all actions taken on their behalf.”

Residents can get assistance with financial services questions, including insurance information regarding policy coverage for losses, by calling the Department of Financial Services' disaster hotline at 800-339-1759 daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and by accessing the department's website at dfs.ny.gov.

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