Hochul pledges to beef up consumer protections

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(The Center Square) — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is pledging to beef up consumer protections this year as part of a broader effort to make the state more affordable.

In a highlight of her upcoming State of the State address, Hochul said she plans to push for proposals to expand consumer protections, increase paid medical and disability leave, set a cap on insulin costs and other steps to protect the state’s most vulnerable residents.

“If the last two years have been about putting more money in New Yorkers’ pockets, this year is about keeping it there and that starts with safeguarding people’s hard-earned cash,” she said in a statement.

One proposal calls for increasing the maximum benefit for paid medical and disability leave over the next five years while tying it to the Statewide Average Weekly Wage. She said the move is aimed at helping women and people with disabilities, who often need leave from work to manage disability-related health needs.

“The maximum benefit for paid medical and disability leave has been capped at $170 a week for 35 years; that defies comprehension,” Hochul said in remarks on Tuesday.

Hochul said she also plans to file legislation to require so-called ‘Buy Now Pay Later’ companies — which provide loans to consumers to make purchases in installments — to get a license to operate in New York and set late fee limits, rules on disputes, credit reporting standards and improved consumer data privacy.

Another proposal would limit hospitals’ ability to sue patients with incomes less than 400% of the federal poverty level, or $120,000 annually for a family of four, to shield low-income New Yorkers from medical debt lawsuits.

She is also pledging to push through a law to eliminate co-pays for insulin, which she estimates will save medical patients about $14 million in 2025.

Hochul also wants to give the state attorney general’s office expanded authority to enforce consumer protections and punish predatory debt collectors and operators.

Attorney General Letitia James praised the governor’s push to expand her office’s authority to crack down on consumer fraud, saying it will help protect vulnerable New Yorkers from unscrupulous companies. She noted that New York is one of eight U.S. states that lack protections against unfair or abusive business practices.

“While we have stopped the most egregious actors, this new bill will expand and strengthen our ability to stop unfair and abusive business practices that hurt too many people,” James said.

Hochul’s proposals also drew praise from AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel, who said elderly New Yorkers will benefit from the changes if lawmakers approve them.

“We’re encouraged by the governor’s plan to expand consumer protections and protections from medical debt for low-income New Yorkers,” she said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the Governor as she launches her latest effort to provide all New Yorkers with more consumer protections against deceptive and abusive practices.”

Hochul is scheduled to deliver her State of the State address on Jan. 9 in the Assembly chamber in Albany, when she will provide more details of her proposals.

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