Coronavirus News: COVID-19-related price hikes, shortages unevenly hurting Bronx

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The impact of coronavirus on the availability of fresh and reasonably priced food at local grocery stores is disproportionately affecting low-income neighborhoods in New York City.

7 On Your Side Investigates visited bodegas and larger supermarkets in the Bronx in response to complaints from viewers about price hikes.

While many grocery stores in Manhattan seemed to have largely adjusted to altered demand under the pandemic, Eyewitness News observed residents in the Bronx more likely to experience empty shelves and overpriced goods.

We found Lysol for $20, a pack of paper towels for over $30, a gallon of milk nearly $8 and a dozen eggs at nearly $7.

Canned goods previously marked as 99 cents had been marked up to more than $2.

Some bodegas serving as neighborhood grocers had opted to close.

One grocer explained that increased demand had placed supply at risk, resulting in a higher cost.

"Over the past four weeks, the market has tripled," the grocer said. "We are forced to take up our retails proportionally. We hope in the coming weeks, market costs decrease, so we can reach better everyday pricing."

Another apologized for empty shelves writing, "During these unprecedented circumstances, we are currently experiencing supply issues. All products are based on availability and subject to change."

"Supply chain disruptions, product availability, employee and customer safety precautions, and simple but staggering changes in consumer behavior mean these valued small businesses are doing all they can to stay open and continue providing their essential community function," wrote Greg Biryla the New York State Director of the National Federation of Independent Business, which advocates for small businesses.

According to census data, the Bronx is home to one of the poorest congressional districts in the country.

The 2019 New York City Hunger Report by the non-profit organization, Hunger Free America, also found nearly one in four residents in the Bronx faced food insecurity compared to just over 1 in 10 in city and state wide.

"Food security is a big issue here," said Mychal Johnson, an advocate for residents in the Bronx. "I think the concept of relief is what's missing."

Additionally, according to that Hunger Report, roughly one in three food pantries in the Bronx were already not distributing enough food to meet demand, even before coronavirus.

"We haven't seen a lot of attention being brought to a community that has so many underlying conditions as it relates to health," Johnson said.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James acknowledged the problem and said her office was investigating the situation.

James' office has sent more than 1,050 cease-and-desist orders to businesses for price-gouging in response to over 5,000 complaints.

"They are basically cheating New Yorkers out of the goods that are critical to their health and their safety, and it will not be allowed in New York City or New York State," James said. "These actions are deeply unethical, but more importantly, they are also illegal."

Anyone who believes they are experiencing illegal price gouging can report it online or by calling 1-800-771-7755.



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