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Commerce chief: Let unpaid federal workers get loans

January 24, 2019

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross expressed bewilderment over unpaid federal workers who are seeking charity to feed themselves, saying they should be able to borrow money during the federal government shutdown.

“I don’t really quite understand why,” Ross told CNBC in an interview on Thursday in response to reports that some federal workers are going to homeless shelters to get food. “Borrowing from a bank or a credit union are in effect federally guaranteed. So the 30 days of pay that some people will be out, there’s no real reason why they shouldn’t be able to get a loan,” he said.

The longest shutdown in U.S. history entered its 34th day on Thursday, affecting some 800,000. Pressure is building on President Donald Trump and both parties in Congress to resolve the dispute, as the furloughed workers will miss their second paychecks on Friday.

The remarks by Ross, a wealthy former private-equity investor, were rebuked for failing to understand how many ordinary Americans live.

“That Wilbur Ross can’t understand why federal workers are going to food banks is emblematic of how tone deaf and out of touch this administration is,” said Representative Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Illinois, who said she has a constituent who administers food stamps who had to resort to food banks herself. “Open your eyes!”

Whether in protest or out of necessity, a growing number of federal workers whose jobs have been deemed essential are calling in sick or claiming hardship exemptions. Lines at some airport-security checkpoints are growing as Transportation Security Administration employees, who are working without pay, call in ill.

White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Kevin Hassett said Wednesday that if the shutdown extends through March, there’s a chance of zero economic expansion this quarter.

Ross brushed the argument aside that such workers cannot make ends meet without finding other work, arguing that while people might have to pay a little bit of interest to borrow, “there really is not a good excuse why there really should be a liquidity crisis.”

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