$20 Lysol can? NJ ramping up efforts to stop price gouging

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (WPVI) -- The New Jersey Attorney General is ramping up protections against price gouging.

Its Division of Consumer Affairs sent 217 cease and desist letters to stores, statewide, in the past week.

There have been more than 3,600 consumer complaints since the COVID-19 emergency began.

"It's times like these when New Jersey residents need the Division of Consumer Affairs most," said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. "When people are concerned about keeping their families healthy and paying their bills, they shouldn't have to worry about becoming the victim of unscrupulous market practices. If you're a business looking to take advantage of New Jersey consumers, we're coming for you, and don't bother trying to hide behind an online profile."

Examples of price hikes reported to the Division as potential violations:
- a convenience store allegedly charging $6 single roll of paper towels;
- a janitorial supply store allegedly charging $20 for a can of Lysol;
- a convenience store allegedly raised the price of 2-ounce pocket bottles of hand sanitizer to $4.99 from its $1 pre-emergency declaration price- an almost 500% increase;
- a grocery store allegedly charging $12 for a gallon of milk;
- a deli allegedly charging $10 for a gallon of water;
- a convenience store allegedly charging $60 for a small package of toilet paper;
- a dollar store allegedly charging $9.99 for a gallon of bleach;
- a gas station allegedly selling single-use masks for $25 each; and
- a supply store allegedly charging $36 for a gallon of hand sanitizer

Price-gouging violations are punishable by civil penalties of up to $10,000 for the first violation and $20,000 for the second and subsequent violations. Violators may also be required to pay consumer restitution, attorney's fees, and investigative fees, and be subject to injunctive relief. Each sale of merchandise is considered a separate violation.
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MURPHY: MUCH OF $1.8B IN FEDERAL VIRUS RELIEF 'UNUSABLE'

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Governor Murphy says much of the $1.8 billion earmarked for New Jersey under recent federal COVID-19 relief legislation is likely “unusable."



Much of the $1.8 billion earmarked for New Jersey under recent federal COVID-19 relief legislation is likely "unusable" and could have to be returned to the U.S. Treasury, Gov. Phil Murphy said Thursday.

The Treasury Department guidance said the funding could be used only for coronavirus-related expenses. Murphy said the state needs greater flexibility and also called for more direct cash payments from the federal government.

It's unclear how much the state has spent on COVID-19 response.

The Democratic governor also said the state's positive coronavirus cases approached 100,000, with 307 more deaths since Wednesday pushing the state's death toll above 5,300.

RELATED: Small businesses struggling to survive as they wait for COVID-19 funding

A look at developments:

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BY THE NUMBERS

The curve continues to be "significantly flat," Murphy said. Positive cases approached 100,000, with more than 4,000 added overnight. The death toll reached 5,368.

More than 7,000 patients were hospitalized as of Thursday, including about 800 newly hospitalized over the previous 24 hours, and 750 more had been discharged during that period.

The time it takes the number of cases to double continues to climb across the hard-hit northern part of the state, which Murphy called a positive sign.

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NEW TESTING

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New Jersey will be starting starting COVID-19 saliva testing.



A new COVID-19 test developed by Rutgers University that uses saliva instead of a nose or throat swab is being rolled out in the state's five developmental centers, Murphy said.

The test requires spitting into a cup instead of a health care worker donning personal protective equipment, or PPE, to insert a swab into a person's nose and throat. That means the new test is less invasive and also requires less PPE to administer, according to officials.

The state's developmental centers are home to residents with developmental disabilities.

All 5,500 residents and staff are expected to undergo the new test, Murphy said.

RELATED: How to get groceries, supplies, takeout, online workouts and home projects while quarantine

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JOBLESS CLAIMS CLIMB

New Jersey has paid about $1 billion in unemployment benefits since the COVID-19 outbreak began in March, the Labor Department said Thursday.

The payments went to some 556,000 residents, up 560% over last year, according to the department.

The latest unemployment claims are for the week that ended Saturday and show about 140,000 new requests have been submitted. That roughly mirrors the 141,000 from the week before.

The state paid about $600 million in jobless benefits from March through April 17 and nearly $400 million in supplemental payments in just the last two weeks, the department said.

New Jersey's unemployment trust fund had about $3 billion in it, according to a 2019 report to lawmakers from the department.

The state's fiscal year ends Sept. 30 now, pushed later from June 30 because of the outbreak.

Gov. Phil Murphy has said the state's finances are expected to drop significantly.

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ABOUT THE VIRUS

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

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