5 Questions with Ken McEldowney, Consumer Action
Ken McEldowney is executive director of Consumer Action, a San Francisco-based national consumer advocacy and education membership organization. Consumer Action has worked on food, insurance, utility, privacy, toxics, health care, banking, postal and telephone issues for 35 years. The organization’s current focus is on ensuring that the interests of low income and limited English-speaking consumers are protected during this period of deregulation and corporate mergers.
CA’s National Consumer Resource Center yearly distributes more than two million fact sheets in up to eight languages through a national network of 8,300 community organizations and social service organizations. An additional 500,000 people access its multilingual web site each year. Along with other key staff members, Ken McEldowney represents the consumer interest before state and federal regulatory bodies, Congress and the California Legislature.
At Consumer Action, he has directed contracts with the FTC, FDA, Federal Reserve, DOT, CPUC and HUD.
1. This year you celebrate you celebrate 40 years with Consumer Action. Of the many ways you’ve helped consumers since 1980, what do you think are the programs that have been most impactful
I would have to say that the most important program has been the development of our national network of more than 6,000 community-based organizations (CBOs) that we partner with to help low- and moderate-income consumers make intelligent choices in the marketplace and protect their privacy. It’s a partnership in which we provide the multilingual educational modules, train-the-trainer roundtables, webinars and technical assistance that enables CBOs to be highly successful in working with clients. Over the last couple of years we have provided mini-grants to dozens of CBOs to enable them to use FinTech apps and online tools to improve the financial wellbeing of their clients. Our FinTech project has enabled a significant number of low-income consumers to get bank accounts, establish emergency savings and improve their credit scores.
2. Can you tell us about Consumer Action’s latest endeavor, the COVID-19 Educational Project?
Early this year we were concerned that inaccurate and often dangerous information about COVID was flooding the media. In addition, there seemed to be very limited information being provided in languages other than English. We raised money to correct this problem. We established our COVID-19 Educational Project in May. It is providing updated information on government and private resources, timely webinars, and fact sheets in five languages. Here’s a link to the site https://www.consumer-action.org/covid-19.
3. What are the most used resources on your website by consumers?
Without a doubt, it’s our Class Action Database https://www.consumer-action.org/lawsuits/.
Our website receives roughly two million pageviews a year, and our class action page gets roughly half of them. We set it up in order to help consumers learn about class action settlements in which they might obtain a refund or other relief. Courts do a poor job of publicizing these settlements and we wanted to increase the number of consumers who can benefit from them.
4. During this pandemic, what are some of consumers’ biggest issues and concerns? And how has Consumer Action been coming to their aid?
I would have to say housing, unemployment and COVID. Unfortunately, these are nationwide problems that are far beyond the ability of groups like Consumer Action to solve. However, our COVID project has provided a wealth of valuable information for individuals and CBOs to use. For example, we created a fact sheet in five languages on financial resources for undocumented workers (https://consumer-action.org/modules/articles/Undocumented_COVID), and we ran a webinar on fair housing rights during COVID (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ru1EWMrsRM&feature=emb_title).
5. Advocating for consumers for 40 years, it’s safe to say you are driven by helping others. What is it about how you were raised and/or your background that directed you to this path?
My parents were liberals and always supported my efforts to seek justice. It was at the University of Michigan that my activism really developed. I was on the Michigan Daily, and was one of the founders of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and worked on its community project in Cleveland, Ohio. I came to San Francisco to open its West Coast office and eventually helped found Media Alliance, an organization of media workers. I also served as the consumer editor on a weekly alternative newspaper. I covered Consumer Action before I joined it in 1980.