The economic downturn that accompanied the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on American life…and perhaps even in some hidden and nefarious ways.
The government-mandated lockdowns and reduced capacity edicts that have been put into place to promote social distancing have made it extremely difficult for certain types of businesses to keep their bottom line in the black. Bars and music venue have been especially hard-hit, on account of their reliance on groups of people willing to mingle in order to make money.
For many businesses, adaptation was key to survival. Restaurants began relying heavily on delivery and carryout orders, but that business model wasn’t providing the sort of revenue necessary to keep the doors open.
That’s where sneaky “COVID fees” came in…and not only in restaurants.
Nearly a year into the pandemic’s gutting of the economy, businesses across the country are increasingly charging coronavirus-related fees, ranging from a $5 disinfection charge in a hair salon to $1,200 for extra food and cleaning in a senior living center, which are often undisclosed until the customer gets a bill.
According to a survey by The Washington Post of attorney general offices and financial departments in 52 states and territories, U.S. consumers in 29 states have filed 510 complaints of coronavirus-related surcharges at dentist offices, senior living facilities, hair salons and restaurants.
There are concerns about the legality of these fees, particularly in the health industry.
It’s unclear exactly how widespread coronavirus surcharges are, as anecdotal social media posts of customer receipts and reports filed with attorneys general and state consumer protection departments are the only way to track them. But health-care providers and residential facilities are some of the worst-affected sectors.
For instance, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) sent a cease-and-desist letter to 11 senior living facilities in August after 45 residents reported being charged $900 each in “supplemental COVID-19 fees.”
Nessel’s office said that a senior official for one of the companies said the fee covered charges for meal service, PPE and cleaning services, but that residents who pushed back were told they didn’t have to pay it.
“This pandemic has caused financial strain for many people and businesses in Michigan, but that does not provide companies with the right to impose unauthorized costs on their customers and clients — especially those in our senior communities and others who are already living on a fixed income,” Nessel said in a news release.
And, as with any additional fee that we endure, there is no telling when business owners will decide to stop collecting it.
For now, we’ll have to remained eagle-eyed anytime the check comes.
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