Amid the ongoing public health crisis brought about by the spread of the new coronavirus, there have unfortunately been reports of vital medical equipment and supplies being hoarded and prices being manipulated by people seeking to exploit the panic for profit.
President Donald Trump announced on Monday that supply hoarding and price gouging would not be permitted to continue under his administration, and Attorney General Bill Barr made it clear that — thanks to an executive order signed by the president — goods could be seized and perpetrators prosecuted if necessary, Breitbart reported.
Trump issues executive order
According to a White House fact sheet, President Trump, citing authority granted by the Defense Production Act, signed an executive order that prohibits the unnecessary hoarding of certain medical equipment and supplies deemed vital to our nation’s health and security.
That order allows the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to designate certain items as “scarce” resources, the national supply of which could be threatened by hoarding and price gouging. Such resources could include things like hand sanitizer, sterile gloves, respirator masks, and ventilator machines, among other things.
Concurrent with that, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been tasked with prioritizing the “detection, investigation, and prosecution” of fraudulent activity, hoarding, price gouging or other activity deemed threatening to our nation’s supply of vital medical equipment and supplies.
Barr pledges enforcement action
Barr joined President Trump and members of his Coronavirus Task Force for the daily press briefing on Monday and spoke for a few moments about his role in investigating and prosecuting instances of hoarding and price gouging for designated medical resources.
“Under Section 102 of the Defense Production Act, the President is authorized to prohibit the hoarding of needed resources by designating those materials as ‘scarce,’ or as materials whose supply would be threatened by persons accumulating excessive amounts,” Barr explained. “Once specific materials are so designated, persons are prohibited from accumulating those items in excess of reasonable personal or business needs, or for the purpose of selling them in excess of prevailing market prices. It is a crime to engage in prohibited activity.”
The attorney general noted that no specific resources had been officially designated as of yet, but that the DOJ had nonetheless begun to work closely with HHS and already designated a lead prosecutor in each of the 93 U.S. Attorney’s offices around the country to take action when necessary. Barr added that the DOJ had started investigating some suspected cases even before the executive order was put into effect.
“I want to stress that we’re not talking about consumers or businesses stockpiling supplies for their own operations. We’re talking about people hoarding these goods and materials on an industrial scale for the purpose of manipulating the market and ultimately deriving windfall profits,” Barr said.
“If you are — have a big supply of toilet paper in your house, this is not something you have to worry about,” he added. “But if you are sitting on a warehouse with masks — surgical masks — you will be hearing a knock on your door.”
Decisive moves in a time of crisis
Despite what may be heard from President Trump’s critics in Congress and the media, he is taking the new coronavirus crisis seriously, and his administration will not tolerate the hoarding or price gouging of vital resources desperately needed by our nation’s legion of first responders who are on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.
This move by the administration — especially if there are actual prosecutions to send a message — should go a long way toward stabilizing the market supply and ensuring the availability of these potentially life-saving tools.