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  • NEW REPORT: New Jersey Receives "B" in Annual Report on Transparency of Government Spending | NJPIRG
    York Texas and South Dakota New Jersey is now an advancing state in the report improved somewhat since last year The Garden State particularly excels in quasi public agency transparency and includes a page dedicated to some of the state s most prominent quasi public entities on its main web portal To be a leader in budget transparency next year the state should reach a similar level of data disclosure for all economic development subsidies States that have created or improved their online transparency have typically done so with little upfront cost In fact top flight transparency websites can save money for taxpayers while also restoring public confidence in government preventing misspending and pay to play contracts New Jersey officials reported that their transparency portal cost 372 667 for the initial purchase and switchover to new software and costs 118 495 in employee time annually The state expects costs to decrease going forward now that the software switch has been implemented fully Open and accessible state budgets are important so that the public can see where its tax dollars are being spent and hold their state government accountable for its decisions said Sunlight Foundation National Policy Manager Emily Shaw It s encouraging to see more states prioritizing open data policies and taking the steps necessary to make their data truly accessible State spending transparency appears to be a non partisan issue The report compared transparency scores with a variety of measures of state legislative gubernatorial or public opinion partisanship and found that neither Republican nor Democratic states tended to have higher levels of spending disclosure The state of Ohio topped the rankings climbing from a D in 2014 to an A this year for its improvements to the Online Checkbook transparency portal Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel said I m proud

    Original URL path: http://njpirg.org/news/njp/new-report-new-jersey-receives-b-annual-report-transparency-government-spending (2016-04-29)
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  • Credit Bureaus’ Deal to Improve Accuracy ‘Huge’ for Consumers | NJPIRG
    on their credit reports resulting from mistakes fraud or mistaken identities Removing black marks will save people money and time as credit bureaus have become gatekeepers to economic and employment success in the U S said Ed Mierzwinski consumer program director at advocacy group U S PIRG in Washington Units of the three U S consumer credit reporting services Equifax Inc Experian Plc and TransUnion Corp said they would make changes to improve accuracy of reports and increase protection for consumers with medical debt in the agreement with Schneiderman Combined the companies maintain credit information on about 200 million U S consumers and much of the deal will apply nationally It s a sea change in the way the credit bureaus treat complaints said Mierzwinski The credit bureaus have been run by computers for years now They re going to have to hire more people and actually verify that what a creditor said is true Credit Complaints The U S Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has received more than 35 600 complaints related to incorrect information on credit reports since it began collecting data in October 2012 About one in five complaints came from consumers who said information on their credit reports wasn t actually theirs according to a 2013 U S PIRG report that examined the complaints Link to our report Story continues here Search form Search About Issues Stop the Overuse Of Antibiotics Stop the Highway Boondoggles Democracy For The People Label GMO Foods Making Health Care Work Protecting Consumers Toxic Free Communities Reining in Wall Street Act Now Jobs Donate Newsroom Resources Reports Get our RSS feed Our Affiliates Our Sister c 3 Are you a student Energy Service Corps Our Federation Archives Blog Media Hits News Releases Reports Resources Results Take Action Donate JOIN US Priority Action

    Original URL path: http://njpirg.org/media/usp/credit-bureaus%E2%80%99-deal-improve-accuracy-%E2%80%98huge%E2%80%99-consumers (2016-04-29)
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  • FCC NET NEUTRALITY ORDER PROTECTS THE OPEN INTERNET | NJPIRG
    telephone companies that want to act as gatekeepers Now every new innovation every small or new business and every diverse political or cultural idea no matter how small or narrowly held is digitally equal and cannot be relegated to a slow lane or otherwise throttled by Internet gatekeepers The FCC also took another important step today By overriding state laws that denied localities the opportunity to build out fast lower cost broadband networks the FCC took a major step to close the digital divide and make the Internet available to more Americans while ensuring that consumers have more choices in the marketplace We commend President Obama Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioners Rosenworcel and Clyburn for listening to the voices of over 4 million Americans who want the Internet to be open and free We now need to make sure that Congress at the behest of the cable and telephone companies does not hinder the FCC s ability to enforce its new orders holding that there is just one Internet that works for everybody 30 U S PIRG the federation of non partisan non profit state Public Interest Research Groups is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety our financial security or our right to fully participate in our democratic society Search form Search About Issues Stop the Overuse Of Antibiotics Stop the Highway Boondoggles Democracy For The People Label GMO Foods Making Health Care Work Protecting Consumers Toxic Free Communities Reining in Wall Street Act Now Jobs Donate Newsroom Resources Reports Get our RSS feed Our Affiliates Our Sister c 3 Are you a student Energy Service Corps Our Federation Contact Ed Mierzwinski 202 546 9707 x314 Contact person by email Archives Blog Media Hits News Releases Reports Resources Results Take

    Original URL path: http://njpirg.org/news/usp/fcc-net-neutrality-order-protects-open-internet (2016-04-29)
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  • Following the Money 2014 | NJPIRG
    in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data Over the past year several states have launched new websites or made substantive upgrades to their existing websites For example Wisconsin launched OpenBook Wisconsin which enables users to browse the payments made to vendors based on the vendor s name the purchasing agency or the type of expenditure The checkbook is updated every two weeks and contains expenditure information dating back to fiscal year 2008 Vermont unveiled a new checkbook tool that enables users to view the state s payments to vendors from 66 departments agencies and other government entities dating back to fiscal year 2011 States have made varying levels of progress toward improved online spending transparency See Figure ES 1 and Table ES 1 Leading States A range The eight states leading in online spending transparency have created user friendly websites that provide visitors with accessible information on an array of expenditures Not only can ordinary citizens find information on specific vendor payments through easy to use search features but experts and watchdog groups can also download and analyze the entire checkbook dataset Advancing States B range Twenty states are advancing in online spending transparency with spending information that is easy to access but more limited than Leading States Most Advancing States have checkbooks that are searchable by recipient keyword and agency Middling States C range Ten states are middling in online spending transparency with comprehensive and easy to access checkbook level spending information but limited information on subsidies or other off budget expenditures Lagging States D range Checkbook level spending in the nine Lagging States is less accessible to users than checkbook level spending in other states For example while these states provide the public with the ability to search for specific payments residents cannot download and analyze the entire dataset Failing States F range Three states are failing to meet several of the standards of online spending transparency For instance while these states provide checkbook level information the spending data are not available in searchable online tools Some states are innovating new features for online transparency They have developed new protocols and datasets giving the public unprecedented ability to monitor and influence how their government allocates resources For instance Massachusetts has awarded more than 300 000 in grants to six cities to post their spending information online In total Massachusetts plans to help 20 cities post their spending information online by January 2015 South Dakota audits its checkbook every year which enables users to have greater confidence in the veracity of the data and to report publicly on facts and trends they find in state spending Tennessee posts the value of payments excluded from the checkbook for confidentiality reasons such as for foster care and adoption assistance enabling users to better understand even those state payments that policies prevent from being listed in the checkbook database All states including Leading States have many opportunities to improve their transparency Not a single state provides checkbook level spending information on

    Original URL path: http://njpirg.org/reports/njp/following-money-2014 (2016-04-29)
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  • Should I Stay Or Should I Go? | NJPIRG
    a pre existing condition That s because if a medical problem is discovered in the year ahead and it s determined that the problem started before your coverage began the insurer may count that as a pre existing condition and not cover the cost of your care Find a full list of exclusions in the plan document from your insurance company Look at the provider network Many insurance companies are moving toward having narrower provider networks and explain that doing so enables them to negotiate lower prices and keep premiums lower Whether you are staying with the same plan switching to a different plan with the same insurer or changing insurers entirely it s important to understand which providers you ll be able to visit in network Where to find it On the first page of the SBC you ll find answers about whether the plan uses a network of providers and a website and or toll free number for a list of participating providers Note the premium and factor in any tax credits Premiums for newly non cancelled pre ACA individual plans may go up for 2014 Check with your insurance company to see what the premium will be if you continue your plan For plans sold through the new health insurance marketplaces see if you qualify for a tax credit to lower your monthly premium Find out if you qualify for lower premiums before making your final decision Understand the out of pocket costs For each plan you consider note the out of pocket cost amounts These are likely to differ depending on whether you visit an in network or out of network provider Here are the three main types of out of pocket costs Co pay A flat amount you pay when you get medical care Deductible The amount which you must pay yourself before your insurance covers any costs For example a plan with a 1 000 deductible would require you to pay for your first 1 000 of medical care each year before the insurance company would cover any portion of the cost Co insurance This cost sharing method usually kicks in after you hit your deductible It requires a patient to pick up a certain percentage of the cost of a procedure while the plan covers the rest For example a plan with 80 20 hospital co insurance will cover 80 of the cost of your hospital stay and 20 of the costs will be your responsibility Where to find it The list of in network and out of network co pays deductibles and co insurance starts on page 2 of the SBC Estimate your potential total costs for the year You can use the out of pocket maximum listed on the marketplace or the SBC to help estimate your potential total costs for the year The out of pocket maximum can work differently in plans outside the marketplace versus those inside the marketplace and is often even more complicated in pre ACA plans

    Original URL path: http://njpirg.org/reports/njf/should-i-stay-or-should-i-go (2016-04-29)
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  • Debt Collectors, Debt Complaints | NJPIRG
    the top three most common problems were debt collectors trying to collect debt from the wrong person 21 percent not providing enough information to verify that debt was owed 15 percent or repeated phone calls 13 percent State and federal laws protect consumers from harassing phone calls from debt collectors The most complained about debt collection company in New Jersey is Pressler Pressler LLP Palisades Collection closely followed by Encore Capital Group New Jersey ranks 8th in complaints per 100 000 residents Table ES 2 Top Complaints and the Most Complained About Debt Collectors in New Jersey The CFPB is making a significant difference for consumers facing difficulties with debt collectors The CFPB has helped more than 2 300 consumers or more than one in five complainants to receive monetary or non monetary relief as a result of their debt collection complaints See Figure ES 4 Figure ES 4 22 Percent of Consumers Received Relief after Complaining to the CFPB Companies vary greatly in the extent to which they respond to consumer complaints with offers of monetary or non monetary relief Four of the 20 most complained about companies Convergent Outsourcing Dynamic Recovery Solutions Inc Diversified Consultants Inc and I C System Inc reported providing no relief either monetary or non monetary to any of the consumers who complained to the CFPB Allied Interstate LLC and Portfolio Recovery Associates Inc were the most likely to report extending monetary or non monetary relief providing relief for 98 percent and 79 percent of complaints respectively About 16 percent of responses from debt collectors were deemed unsatisfactory by consumers and were subjected to further dispute Of the 20 companies with the most overall complaints the company with the greatest proportion of disputed responses was Encore Capital Group with 21 4 percent of responses disputed Of these same companies Expert Global Solutions had the lowest proportion of disputed responses with 5 2 percent of responses disputed Table ES 3 Companies with the Highest Dispute to Complaint Ratios 1 The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau s Consumer Complaint Database is a key resource for consumer protection To enhance the ability of the CFPB to respond to consumer complaints the CFPB should Add more detailed information to the database such as actual complaint narratives detailed complaint categories and subcategories complaint resolution details consumer dispute details and data regarding membership in classes protected from discrimination by law Expanded complaint level details should also include more information about amounts and types of monetary and non monetary relief Software and other techniques should be used to protect consumer privacy by giving consumers the right not to provide details and by taking steps to prevent the release of personally identifiable information or the re identification of consumers It is critical that the CFPB achieve the disclosure of more individual complaint details while simultaneously making every reasonable effort to protect personal data Add a field listing company subsidiaries which are often the firms with which consumers actually interact For example Encore Capital

    Original URL path: http://njpirg.org/reports/njp/debt-collectors-debt-complaints (2016-04-29)
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  • A New Course | NJPIRG
    free service At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill the university provides financial support to enable fare free transit service throughout the community Between 1997 and 2011 the proportion of students using transit to commute to campus more than doubled from 21 to 53 percent Programs to promote bicycle use Many colleges subsidize membership in existing bicycle sharing schemes in the community and some create their own sharing programs on campus Many also provide on campus resources like free or at cost bike repairs and ample bike racks At the University of Wisconsin in Madison 22 percent of students currently bike to campus in good weather up eight percentage points since 2006 partly as a result of investments in on campus bike repair services subsidized membership in the city s bike share program and a plentiful and increasing supply of bike racks Building new biking and walking paths Universities invest in infrastructure like bike lanes and pedestrian underpasses under traffic heavy streets making it safer and more convenient to leave the car at home The University of Colorado Boulder has supported the build out of bicycle and pedestrian paths in Boulder including the city s 58 miles of paved pathways and 78 underpasses By 2012 roughly 60 percent of all trips made by students at CU Boulder were by bike or foot nearly nine percentage points more than in 1990 Ridesharing initiatives Colleges encourage carpooling with incentive programs and through partnerships with online ridesharing services that connect drivers with others who would like a ride in their car Some provide a guaranteed ride home whereby universities pick up the tab for a taxi should an emergency require the student or employee to leave campus suddenly making carpooling and other forms of ridesharing more attractive The University of California Davis encourages students and staff to share rides resulting in an increase in carpooling Among graduate students more likely than undergraduates to live at a driving distance from school carpooling to campus rose from 3 4 percent in the 2007 2008 academic year to 6 9 percent in 2011 2012 Carsharing programs Carsharing allows users to access cars located in their vicinity without having to bear the burden of owning one Universities offer discounted memberships in carsharing programs allowing students to make the most of transportation alternatives while maintaining access to a car when necessary Distance learning and online resources Some colleges are beginning to conceive of distance learning taking classes with at least some online component that limits the need for students to physically travel to campus as part of their parking and transportation strategy The policies adopted by colleges and universities to reduce driving have impacts that can be felt far beyond campus College transportation investments can expand transportation options for the entire community For example when schools invest in U Pass programs they supply a steady source of revenue to the local transit agency supporting better service for everyone University transportation plans provide a powerful example that

    Original URL path: http://njpirg.org/reports/njp/new-course (2016-04-29)
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  • House Committee Launches Trojan Horse Assault On State Privacy Laws | NJPIRG
    and wearable devices In July an unprecedented bi partisan list of 47 state and territorial Attorneys General sent their own letter to Congressional leaders Excerpt Federal Law Should Not Preempt State Law State attorneys general are on the front lines responding to data breaches Our offices hear directly from affected consumers and we regularly respond directly to their complaints and calls For example the Office of the Illinois Attorney General has helped over 38 000 Illinois residents remove more than 27 million in unauthorized charges from their accounts Any federal legislation on data breach notification and data security should recognize this important role and not hinder states that are helping their residents Preempting state law would make consumers less protected than they are right now Our constituents are continually asking for greater protection If states are limited by federal legislation we will be unable to respond to their concerns Toward that end it is important that any federal legislation ensure that states can continue to enforce breach notification requirements under their own state laws States should also be assured continued flexibility to adapt their state laws to respond to changes in technology and data collection As we have seen over the past decade states are better equipped to quickly adjust to the challenges presented by a data driven economy States have been able to amend their laws and focus their enforcement efforts on those areas most affecting consumers In addition to the problems described in our letter over 100 merchant and retailer associations oppose the bill because it imposes two tiers of rules Banks would continue to be subject to an existing weak regime that does not even require breach notices only modest plans Other firms are subject to the bill s higher requirements The bill is not only designed to serve the banks but pays fealty to another powerful special interest an organization of telecommunications behemoths with the Orwellian name of the 21st Century Privacy Coalition Its actual goal is to evade existing strong privacy rules of the Federal Communications Commission As we note in our letter Further H R 2205 would eliminate key protections under the Communications Act for telecommunications cable and satellite records The Communications Act contains very strong data security and breach notification protections for information about customers use of telecommunications services such as phone call histories and location data It also protects cable and satellite subscribers information including their viewing histories But as with email login information and photos this bill is too narrow to cover that information It would simply eliminate crucial federal data security and breach notification protections for telecommunications usage information and cable and satellite viewing histories In 2003 when Congress enacted major changes to the Fair Credit Reporting Act but failed to adequately address identity theft we launched a campaign with Consumers Union to pass state data breach notice and security freeze laws in nearly every state Sadly if HR 2205 becomes law it not only weakens many of those laws

    Original URL path: http://njpirg.org/blogs/eds-blog/usp/house-committee-launches-trojan-horse-assault-state-privacy-laws (2016-04-29)
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