Every year, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission must hold a budget and priorities hearing. This is a public hearing that gives interested parties an opportunity to provide oral testimony regarding the Commission's budget and priorities for the next fiscal year. This is important, because it gives advocacy groups and ordinary citizens an opportunity to educate the Commission on what they should consider the top consumer safety issues to focus on and why. Anyone can also submit written testimony of any length prior to the hearing. The deadlines and details of each year's hearing are published in the Federal Register.
Normally, this hearing is held in April at CPSC headquarters in Washington, D.C. and is video recorded. This year, because of the global Pandemic, the hearing was postponed to May 27th and was held via audio-conference. This is obviously less than ideal for a number of reasons. There is tremendous value in being able to see each other and a video call would have been better than audio only. So much is lost in oral testimony when you cannot make eye contact and read/use body language while you present. I was disappointed the remote testimony did not include video.
It's also unclear if it was recorded or if a recording or transcript of this year's hearing will be released. My testimony is below if you wish to skip right to it. I do hope you take a few minutes to read it. It's an opportunity to see my advocacy at work with the Government agency tasked with keeping consumers safe from product hazards and holding companies accountable for making safe products, and by recalling those that are not safe when the potential for or actual injuries and deaths have been reported.
How the hearing works
Those who wished to provide oral testimony had to register in advance. While anyone can provide testimony, it is typically advocacy groups, parent advocates, and the American Academy of Pediatrics who do. Typically the hazards the Commission is asked to address revolve around products posing a significant hazard of injury or death to children.
The Chair gives opening remarks and then the first panel is "seated". The panels typically have 4-5 panelists, each of whom normally would have 10 minutes to present. I would normally bring a photo of Meghan and her dresser to place on the table while I gave my testimony, and obviously, I couldn't use that added impact this year. This year, we only had a strict 5 minutes (timed) to present our testimony. Five minutes is not a lot of time, especially for groups who are asking for multiple priorities to be considered, so a focused, articulate, compelling argument needs to be practiced to be effective in the time allowed. Most panelists also submit a much longer written testimony which provides more detail and explanation to support their argument and requests, but there is also a deadline for this and it is due prior to the hearing date.
After each panel presents, each Commissioner is given 5 minutes to ask follow up questions to any of the panelists. Some ask a question to specific panelists and others ask more general questions. Some simply say thank you or use the time share their personal opinion on the issues presented, rather than ask any questions. Once the Commissioner questions are finished, the next panel is seated and the process repeats.
Once the panels are completed, the Chair offers closing remarks and the hearing is ended.
This year, because of the shortened time panelists were allowed, and because the hearing was audio only, panelists were given an additional 2 weeks to submit additional testimony, answer Commissioner questions there was not time to adequately do during the hearing, and for the Commissioners to ask the panelists additional questions if they desired.
I've been advocating for furniture safety for 15 years now, and working with the CPSC on their Anchor It! campaign since 2015. I've met personally with all of the current Commissioners several times, and they know me and my story well. They are also very familiar with the data and my frustrations as well as those shared by my Parents Against Tip-Overs colleagues, so I took a different approach this year. One designed to call them out and to action, with a bit of praise, a bit of scolding, and punctuated with emotion. Reading the words is not nearly as powerful as how you say them, so listening to them packs more punch than reading them, but for those of you who have heard me present before, I'm sure you can "hear" it as you read.
CPSC FY 2021-2022 Agenda and Priorities Hearing
May 27, 2020
Good Afternoon. My name is Kimberly Amato, and I am the founder of Meghan’s Hope.
Fifteen years ago, on December 18th, 2004, I woke to my husband frantically screaming my name. Our beautiful, 3-year old, twin daughter Meghan, was found lifeless beneath her dresser.
I’ve been fighting literally since the day she died, to educate others about the dangers of furniture tip-overs and advocating for a mandatory furniture safety standard. I’ve been actively engaged with Congress, ASTM, and the CPSC since just a few months after her death, and quite frankly, I am beyond frustrated that this issue has STILL not been adequately addressed by these entities, and children continue to be injured and killed by furniture tip-overs. Every. Single. Day.
Today, I thank the Commission for its dedication to furniture safety and ask that you continue to make it a top priority by:
1. Aggressively pursuing rule-making for a robust, effective, and comprehensive mandatory furniture safety standard.
I beg of you to issue an NPR and make it an urgent priority. It’s been 3 years since the ANPR was issued. The STURDY Act, the ASTM voluntary standards process, and progress on an NPR can, and should, all happen concurrently. We cannot wait any longer for “someone else” to create a comprehensive mandatory standard. ASTM has already had 20 years. The time is now. The job, is yours.
2. Continue to improve and promote the Anchor It! Campaign in both its scope and its reach. The tone of the campaign needs to be a serious one, and use real-life stories and images to engage parents, for we know that is what has the greatest impact.
3. Increase the scope, reach, and public awareness of saferproducts.gov in order to get more accurate and timely data, and by expanding who is required to report product hazards, injuries and deaths beyond the NEISS hospital system.
4. The Commission needs to issue timely warnings and safety alerts, and use its full authority, and every tool at its disposal, to recall furniture that is not compliant with the current standard, issue unilateral recalls if necessary, and impose civil penalties where appropriate, to get dangerous furniture off the market, and adequately inform the American public about a hazard or recall, so they know what to do to protect their family.
The issue of furniture tip-over remains a clear and present danger to the citizens of the U.S., especially the most vulnerable, our children and elders. It is a hazard that exists in every single household, as well as in schools, day cares, nursing homes and assisted livings, hotels, church halls, classrooms, retail stores, and other public spaces, making the anchoring campaign a vital component of tip-over prevention.
The agency also desperately needs to improve their avenues of communication and reach to the American public. Recall information and safety campaigns don’t save lives if parents and the public don’t know about them.
If these processes and standards were in place fifteen years ago, I’d still have my beautiful Meggie, and hundreds of thousands injuries and deaths due to furniture tip-overs could have been prevented.
You are the consumer Product Safety Commission. Priority #1 is to educate and protect consumers, no matter who the Chair is, and no matter what the political makeup of the commission is. I assure you, furniture falls equally on Democratic and Republican children. This is not a partisan issue. It is not about protecting industry interests. That’s not your job. It is purely an issue of safety, and consumer safety is your mandate.
Meghan’s twin brother is graduating from high school next week. She should be right there next to him. Instead, I see one where two should have always been. Those twin milestones were all stolen from me the day she died, along with the innocence of my boys, and the joy of Christmas, by a small, heavy, expensive dresser, made for a nursery, that I thought was safe.
I promised her she’d be the last to die this way. She was not. More than 250 children have died since. All while your agency, Congress, ASTM, and the furniture industry fought for their own interests over the lives of our children - and waited for someone else to do the work and create the solution to end tip-overs.
When Meghan wanted to get your attention, she’d climb into your lap, take your face in her tiny little hands, making you look right at her, and say, “You listen to Meggie!”
Close your eyes and picture her in your lap right now. Her tiny hands on YOUR face. Imagine looking at her beautiful face and hearing her plea.
I beg of you, Commissioners Adler, Biacco, Feldman, and Kaye, Please, listen to Meggie!