Let them have payday loans: Commerce Secretary Ross wonders why unpaid workers can't afford food
As the longest government shutdown on record drags on, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross pondered the seemingly obvious question of why unpaid federal workers might need to visit food banks.
33 days into the shutdown, most of the 800,000 federal workers affected have missed their first paychecks of the year. While they will be compensated once the government reopens, some of these workers have had to turn to charity, including food banks, to make ends meet in the meantime.
This morning, 2,200 furloughed federal employees received produce & shelf-stable items at Free Grocery Distributions across the area. The CAFB will host these markets until the shutdown ends. Check our website for updates: https://t.co/GqVgunWVuEpic.twitter.com/mbHSVPaM81— CapitalAreaFoodBank (@foodbankmetrodc) January 13, 2019
Speaking on CNBC Wednesday night, Ross was pressed on these reports.
“I don’t really understand why,” he replied. “Because, as I mentioned before, the obligations that they would undertake, say borrowing from a bank or a credit union are in effect federally guaranteed.”
Some banks and financial institutions are offering zero interest loans for furloughed federal workers, but most charge interest if the amount borrowed is not paid back within 60 days. And, with neither President Trump nor Congressional Democrats willing to cave, there is no guarantee that the government will even be open by then. Other sources of quick cash like payday loans often come with triple-digit interest rates, and can drive needy workers further into debt.
Ross’ comments were seized upon by Democrats, who blame President Trump for the workers’ financial hardship, despite House Democrats voting against a Republican bill on Wednesday to pay federal workers while the government remains shut.
“Is this a ‘let them eat cake’ kind of attitude, or ‘call your father for money,’” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Nancy Pelosi responds to Wilbur Ross: "Is this the 'let them eat cake' kind of attitude, or 'call your father for money?'" Via ABC pic.twitter.com/2qOpT4472P— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) January 24, 2019
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer repeated the reference to the words of the 18th century French queen in a speech from the Senate floor. “Many of these federal employees live paycheck to paycheck," he said. "They can’t just call their stockbroker and ask them to sell some of their shares. They need that paycheck."
Schumer and Pelosi’s statements echoed the sentiments of anti-Trump commentators on Twitter, who accused the administration of “malignant indifference” and called Ross “out of touch.”
Bazillionaire Wilbur Ross, in charge of all “commerce,” wonders why unpaid Feds can’t just take out payday loans to feed their families. Besides, he says, 800,000 suffering Feds are statistically insignificant. This malignant indifference is why we have the Trump shutdown. https://t.co/uDd7YKybrW— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 24, 2019
If it were me, I probably wouldn’t have billionaire Wilbur Ross out there doing my shutdown messaging — wondering why federal workers are at food banks as they miss their second paycheck — but I’ve only been covering political communication every day for a decade, so.— Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) January 24, 2019
Lara Trump: I’m going to have the most out of touch take regarding federal workers this weekWilbur Ross: Hold my Dom Pérignon— Roland Scahill (@rolandscahill) January 24, 2019
Indeed, Ross could survive for the rest of his life without a paycheck. The Commerce Secretary – a former Wall Street investor – is worth an estimated $700 million, while only four in ten American workers have enough savings to cover a $1,000 emergency. Overall, 78 percent of US workers live paycheck to paycheck.
Ross’ advice follows that of Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara, who suggested that federal workers need to endure “a little bit of pain...for the future of our country,” and the Coast Guard, which circulated a tip sheet earlier this month advising furloughed troops to take up babysitting and hold garage sales to raise cash.
Whatever the cost to federal workers, Ross had more important things to worry about on Wednesday evening, like GDP.
“Put it in perspective, you’re talking about 800,000 workers, and while I feel sorry for the individuals that have hardship cases, 800,000 workers if they never got their pay, which is not the case they will eventually get it, but if they never got it, you’re talking about a third of a percent on our GDP,” he said. “So, it’s not like it’s a gigantic number overall.”
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