White House

Wilbur Ross doesn’t understand why furloughed federal workers need food banks

Commerce secretary suggests they should be able to take out bridge loans

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said he didn’t understand the need for furloughed federal workers to use food banks. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says he does not understand why federal employees who are furloughed or have been working without pay during the partial government shutdown would need assistance from food banks.

Several credit unions serving workers at federal departments and agencies have been offering stopgap loans, as they have during previous shutdowns. But it’s not clear how even those loans would be sufficient as the shutdown enters its second month.

“I know they are, and I don’t really quite understand why,” Ross said Thursday when asked on CNBC about workers getting food from places like shelters. “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.”

But in addition to the federal employees who are set to miss another paycheck at the end of this week, there are many federal contractors who have no expectation of ever getting the missed payments back.

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Still, Ross — who oversees a Cabinet department that is under the shutdown due to a lack of appropriations — was downplaying the effect on the economy at large.

“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 of the affected federal employees. “So, it’s not like it’s a gigantic number overall.”

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