One Year Later: AG Shapiro Continues to Fight for Pennsylvanians During COVID-19 Pandemic

March 12, 2021 | Topic: Consumers

HARRISBURG—After a year of protecting Pennsylvania families, workers, and homeowners, Attorney General Josh Shapiro continues to take on the big fights during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the past year, the Office has saved $293 million for Pennsylvanians related to loans and credit cards, and $1.65 million from resolved COVID-related complaints back into consumers’ pockets, ensured essential workers had the protections needed, and took on scammers working overtime to take advantage of Pennsylvanians during this difficult time. 

“Over this past year, we have all felt the devastating human toll of the virus in different ways — from missing friends and family to suffering illness and even losing loved ones ourselves. COVID has impacted every industry, every community, and every family in Pennsylvania. We stepped up accordingly — taking on price-gougers, landlords, fraudsters, and an out-of-control President who threatened the health and safety of millions of Pennsylvanians,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “We’ll continue taking on the big fights through the end of the pandemic and beyond, because every Pennsylvanian deserves a team who will run through a brick wall to protect you — and we have and will.”

Price-gouging and protecting consumers

In March 2020, AG Shapiro launched services and efforts to protect the finances of Pennsylvanians through a dedicated price-gouging email, allowing anyone in the Commonwealth to report price increases on essentials like masks, hand sanitizer, food, and water. 

The Office of Attorney General received more than 6,000 price-gouging tips. To date, the Office has sent 522 cease-and-desist letters to businesses and filed 31 price-gouging legal actions, saving consumers more than $45,000.

PA Care Package

The same month, AG Shapiro partnered with 16 national and local banks for the PA CARE Package, saving Pennsylvanians over $293 million through deferred loan payments, waived fees, and waived service charges. Notable efforts from this partnership include: 

  • PNC Bank waiving or refunding $6 million in fees for approximately 79,000 consumers;
  • First National Bank waived $4.7 million in service charges; 
  • Dollar Bank deferred payments on $160 million in commercial and small business loans, and provided relief for 1,583 Pennsylvanians; 
  • WSFS deferred payments on $120 million in mortgages; 
  • Clearview deferred interest on 1,845 loans to save consumers $2.37 million; 
  • Visions accommodated nearly 18,000 skipped loan payments, and; 
  • Fulton Bank assisted 4,300 consumers with mortgage forbearance, loan deferment, and fee relief.

Investigating PUA fraud

While the Office of Attorney General (OAG) returned millions of dollars to Commonwealth families, OAG’s Organized Crime Section has been hard at work arresting bad actors who fraudulently applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and stole those funds from Pennsylvanians who needed it most. To date, the Office of Attorney General has charged 29 individuals, including 24 inmates and their accomplices, across the Commonwealth for submitting fraudulent PUA applications amounting to more than $2.5 million in illegally obtained PUA funds. Investigations into these crimes remain ongoing. 

Protecting workers

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, OAG’s Fair Labor Section partnered with industry leaders to protect employees through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fair Labor Section collaborated with DoorDash to provide subsidized telehealth and financial assistance to Dashers who were diagnosed with or exposed to the virus. Later, the Office announced a similar partnership with Instacart to benefit their shoppers. At the same time, Fair Labor and Sherwin-Williams donated 7,500 N95 masks and 2,500 pairs of hygienic rubber gloves to help protect the doctors, nurses, and medical staff who worked around the clock at Einstein Medical Center and Lankenau Medical Center to treat Pennsylvanians suffering from COVID-19.

The Fair Labor Section also developed innovative partnerships with large national companies, including Home Depot, Amazon, Walmart, and Whole Foods, as well as businesses like Mom’s Foods grocery in Philadelphia, to secure safe working conditions for employees and to keep facilities safe for the public. OAG helped resolve more than 1,200 COVID-related complaints from workers since March 2020. 

Investigating neglect in our nursing homes

In August 2020, AG Shapiro confirmed OAG’s criminal investigation into neglect of Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, along with other nursing home facilities. While these investigations remain ongoing, on Feb. 25, 2021, OAG, along with the U.S. Attorney in the Western District, announced the first indictment from these investigations. A former administrator of Mount Lebanon Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, a sister nursing home to Brighton, was indicted on federal charges for directing employees to falsify records to give the appearance that the facility met federal and state staffing requirements just before COVID began to surge across the country. Investigations into these facilities remain ongoing and more arrests will be forthcoming.

Anyone who has information about a potential crime involving neglect should contact:

Commitment to fighting the opioid epidemic

This past year, the Office of Attorney General didn’t forget the thousands of Pennsylvanians and their families who were suffering in the ongoing opioid epidemic. During the pandemic, OAG launched LETI programs in two new counties in the Commonwealth. LETI, or Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative, allows Pennsylvanians seeking treatment for addiction to use their local law enforcement, including sheriffs, probation officers, and parole officers as a resource to contact participating treatment partners without the threat of arrest. In February 2021, AG Shapiro also took on McKinsey consulting for their role in fueling the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvanians won $25 million dollars from McKinsey to fund the Commonwealth’s addiction recovery programs.

# # #