Letitia James accepts price gouging settlement payment from food supplier in the form of eggs

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Attorney General Letitia James (left) and Councilman Mark Levine at Community Kitchen of Harlem on April 1.
Photo by Mark Hallum

Attorney General Letitia James brought 1.2 million eggs to a Harlem food pantry on Thursday after a settlement with grocers who were caught price gouging earlier on in the pandemic.

Elected officials from Harlem and the Bronx were at Community Kitchen of Harlem to celebrate the tangible victory of the litigation against Hillandale Farms Corporation which resulted in the donation of 100,000 cartons of eggs for allegedly forcing the retail price of eggs to increase fivefold between January and April 2020.

“These prices were sold in grocery stores throughout low-income communities in the Bronx, Harlem and other areas of New York City,” James said. “I want everyone to know that during this pandemic, we received a number of complaints of individuals or businesses who were engaging in price gouging. Initially, it was price gouging for essential goods, and then there was a transition. We saw price gouging primarily aimed at eggs and meat. We received a number of complaints in the Bronx and then all throughout the state of New York.”

 According to the AG, the supplier was charging Western Beef Supermarket prices ranging from $0.59 to $1.10 for a dozen large white eggs in the first three months of 2020 until March 15 when prices progressed from $1.49 to $2.93 for a dozen.

And that was only the wholesale price of eggs, customers were paying almost five times pre-pandemic prices.
According to James, a town hall with businesses revealed the reason behind price gouging stemmed from wholesalers. Thus began an investigation by her office.

If the food insecurity crisis has improved as the pandemic seems to be waning with the availability of vaccines, nobody told the dozens of New Yorkers waiting in line outside the Community Kitchen of Harlem on 116th Street where James held the press conference donating the eggs.

James believes that local residents will now have a steady supply of food on the table now that the settlement with Hillandale has been reached.

Sultana Ocasio, Director of Community Kitchen and Pantry – Food Bank For New York City, said the pandemic and the cost of food pushed more and more New Yorkers into the arms of organizations such as the one she represents due joblessness and cost of sustenance.

“During COVID, we have had to increase our meal distribution because of the need, allowing folks to stay at home longer without coming out and search for food,” Ocasio said. “Most people don’t realize that our food pantries and our kitchens are for working families, many of those working people have households with children. During the height of the pandemic, we were seeing up to 100 – over 100 people a day – who had never come to an emergency program, who were brand new had never had to reach out for help.”

The organization now provides for 3,000 households and 9,000 individuals per month with groceries that will likely only sustain them for a week. About 1,000 hot meals come out of their kitchen as well.

Ongoing economic fallout from COVID-19 leads Ocasio to believe that 1.6 million New Yorkers will be forced to deal with food insecurity throughout the pandemic.