Brianna Wilson
Managing Editor

COVID-19 has wormed its way into far too many aspects of our lives: the way we work and learn, how many precautions we have to take every time we go out, the way we interact with others, and now, how much of our money we can hold onto. Many businesses are adding a ‘COVID fee’ to their likely already-jacked-up prices, and opinions about the necessity or validity of it are split.

A ‘COVID fee’ was, according to the New York Times, “a surprise charge that can take advantage of vulnerable people and possibly violate consumer protection laws.” Now, these fees are required to be disclosed to customers in one way or another, but the idea is the same: these are charges placed on customers to make up for money lost, in various ways, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some customers are understanding of this fee. This year has been very unexpected, and we in the U.S. are all struggling to stay afloat as our government does next to nothing to help us out. This level of understanding, though, might not be so graceful if people knew what reasons, or excuses, some businesses are using to implement this extra charge, and why they have to rely on it in the first place.

Although businesses are claiming that this money is for COVID-19 precautions, most of these charges are avoidable anyway, and many businesses’ “insurance plans would already cover [these costs], and [. . .] federal programs would cover loans for staff and supplies.” Honestly, the COVID fee is really confusing, and it’s hard to tell which businesses really need to charge more, and which are just using COVID-19 as an excuse to jack up prices. Neither way is very surprising.

Some of these excuses are pretty well-disguised as legitimate reasons that any business could stake claim to these extra charges. In the case of NYC restaurants, for example, this fee, up to 10 percent of a customers’ bill, is deemed a “recovery charge,” which means the owners of these establishments are trying to make up for the money lost during the customer shortage at the beginning of quarantine. The addition of the fee must be disclosed to customers, of course, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that this extra charge is placing economic responsibility on people who are also losing money instead of the federal government, which is supposed to step up and do something useful in times of crisis. Another thing that’s so off-putting about this fee is that it is meant to help struggling businesses, but, more than likely, huge chains with plenty of money in savings, or to spare otherwise, will also join in on charging customers more just to get extra money into corporates’ pockets.

Yes, all businesses are legitimately spending more money in the COVID-19 era due to “social distancing requirements, additional sanitization, and protective equipment for staff,” in addition to the decreased amount of customers they are pulling in. Plenty of people, for example, are preferring to let their hair grow out or go without having their nails done since the smart percentage of the population is choosing not to gather in big groups to avoid contracting the virus. Chances are, a good percentage of the population is still staying at home as much as possible, which likely includes cooking their own meals as they spend time with their families, or ordering delivery — which is particularly interesting in the case of L.A. (and New York); many restaurants are only applying the fee to dine-in customers. Why? Sanitation precautions and social distancing requirements are at play; having customers involves keeping the lights on, not allowing too many people into the restaurant, and putting in the extra efforts surrounding outdoor seating. In-person customers cost more for the establishments, yet they would not survive without them. This is a tricky loop for restaurants, so, yes, the COVID-19 fee definitely makes sense — it just shouldn’t have to.

Something worth mentioning, though it has been mostly outlawed since initial reports, is the extra charges, usually of more than $50, tacked onto medical bills that many people had to pay out-of-pocket (as they were not covered by health insurance plans) when receiving any sort of medical attention at the start of the pandemic. Even dental bills had this surcharge. The U.S. definitely is not the best at handling health care issues, but in a global pandemic that is killing people at rapid rates, the government failed to factor in some extra money to allow insurance companies to cover additional medical fees? That’s ridiculous.

Also, there’s something missing from these various excuses that business owners are making when it comes to the COVID-19 charges, and that’s the paychecks of their employees. Especially in food service positions, workers are having to step up in multiple ways: fully sanitizing dining areas after each customer leaves, running back and forth between the restaurant and people’s cars to deliver their food, and much more. In some cases (like mine), employees are left to manage a shift completely alone so that their store owners can save money on having to pay multiple employees for the same hours. How many of these stressed out, overworked, essential workers are still getting raises, or what we called ‘hazard pay’ at the start of the pandemic? Most likely, none of them.

Yes, the small COVID-19 surplus charges do make sense. The world is in a state of chaos, and money is often what we look for as a solution. What doesn’t make sense is where this money is actually going, and why an alarming number of business owners are forced to rely on their customers to make up for the money loss. It should be up to the government, state and federal, to protect small businesses who are forced to choose between permanently shutting down, or overcharging customers to stay afloat. Hopefully, this coming January, we will start to see some positive changes in the way this pandemic has been handled.

Feature Image: Emerson Little / Quaker Campus

Author

  • Brianna Wilson is an English major who has been with the Quaker Campus since her first year at Whittier College. In-between work and school, Brianna loves journaling, working out, and watching YouTube videos (mostly from the gaming community).

Brianna Wilson is an English major who has been with the Quaker Campus since her first year at Whittier College. In-between work and school, Brianna loves journaling, working out, and watching YouTube videos (mostly from the gaming community).

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