Stay Updates: Winter Storms 2021 : NPR

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Texas officials report that companies are raising food, water and hotel room prices following a winter storm that struck Texas this week. This is because residents wait in long lines in grocery stores and face food and water shortages. Thomas Shea / AFP via Getty Images Hide caption

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Thomas Shea / AFP via Getty Images

Texas officials report that companies are raising food, water and hotel room prices following a winter storm that struck Texas this week. This is because residents wait in long lines in grocery stores and face food and water shortages.

Thomas Shea / AFP via Getty Images

Texas officials are cracking down on companies they say have raised food, water and hotel room prices while the state continues to grapple with shortages caused by unprecedented winter weather.

Harris County attorney Christian Menefee, chief civil attorney for Texas’s largest county, and Harris County judge Linda Hidalgo, said Houston residents have complained that hotel rooms and bottled water are being sold at exorbitant prices.

“The main kinds of things we see are hotels that set prices at ridiculous prices,” Menefee told the Associated Press. “We have seen allegations that packs of water were sold for two to three times the normal price or packs of water were split up and individual bottles were sold at inflated prices.”

Menefee and Hidalgo have since put in place a system that allows consumers to report suspected incidents of price cuts. In just 20 hours, the system logged more than 450 complaints.

This is while much of the state continues to face food and water shortages following bitter cold temperatures and power outages that lasted days after a Texas winter storm this week.

We have heard reports of outrageous prices for essential items such as food, water, and housing. We will not tolerate any price cuts. Sign up at https://t.co/ainGTAAjMn or text 346-354-7459. Violations can result in fines of up to US $ 250,000. District Attorney @CDMenefee is leading this effort.

– Lina Hidalgo (@LinaHidalgoTX) February 17, 2021

Raising the price of essentials during an emergency statement is against the law in Texas.

Selling or leasing fuel, groceries, medicines, shelter, building materials, construction tools, or any other necessity for an exorbitant or inflated price after the governor declares a state disaster is illegal under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act.

Hidalgo said violations could result in fines of up to $ 250,000.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton this week urged residents to report incidents of price cuts or other disaster-related fraud to the state consumer protection hotline.

“No one in Texas is exempt from price-cutting laws. Anyone who sells goods, necessities, or services at exorbitant prices will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Paxton said. “I’m not going to stand up for any person or company that Texans are illegally exploiting.”

The sticker shock wasn’t limited to just food and water. Houston Public Media reported that this week about 27,000 CenterPoint Energy customers in the Houston area opened their emails to a heart attack-surprise surprise: a bill for $ 202,102.16 from their utility company.

But the bill was just a technical flaw, the company said.

CenterPoint Energy tweeted “You don’t owe this amount” to its consumers who may have received such an email.

We are aware of an ongoing technical issue caused by the Houston power outage that resulted in some customers receiving false gas billing emails. If you received a $ 202,102.16 email, please ignore it. You don’t owe that amount.

– CenterPoint Energy (@energyinsights) February 18, 2021

The company said, “We are aware of a recent technical problem caused by the Houston power outage that resulted in some customers receiving false gas billing emails. If you get an email for 202,102.16 USD, please ignore it. “