Sat, Jan 26, 2019 - Page 7 News List

US officials struggle with sympathy for federal workers


Philabundance volunteers distribute food to furloughed US federal government workers and their families who are affected by the partial government shutdown, under Interstate 95 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday.

Photo: AP

One White House aide mused that the US federal government’s shutdown was like a paid vacation for some furloughed workers.

US President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law said that employees’ “little bit of pain” was worth it for the good of the country.

US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross questioned why cash-poor workers were using food banks instead of taking out loans.

Trump himself said that US federal workers simply needed to “make adjustments.”

With hundreds of thousands of federal workers going without pay during the month-long partial US government shutdown, Trump and his team, which includes the wealthiest US Cabinet ever assembled, have struggled to deliver a full dose of empathy for those who are scraping to get by.

Ross set off howls when he was on Thursday asked on CNBC about reports that some of the 800,000 workers not receiving paychecks were going to homeless shelters to get food.

“Well, I know they are, and I don’t really quite understand why,” he said. “The obligations that they would undertake, say 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 against it.”

In a subsequent interview with Bloomberg, Ross said that he was “painfully aware” that workers were experiencing hardships.

He added that in his earlier remarks, he had been trying to let workers know that credit union loans were available for those “experiencing liquidity crises” — hardly the language of those living paycheck to paycheck.

It all contributed to perceptions that the Trump administration was out of touch with workers bearing the brunt of the shutdown’s consequences.

“Is this the ‘Let them eat cake’ kind of attitude?” Democratic US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “Or call your father for money?”

With that, the speaker evoked Former French queen Marie Antoinette and took an indirect jab at Trump for inheriting family money to launch his business career.

US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, also a Democrat, said that Ross’ comments “reveal the administration’s callous indifference toward the federal workers it is treating as pawns.”

“Secretary Ross, they just can’t call their stockbroker and ask them to sell some of their shares,” he said.

Deeming air traffic controllers who are calling in sick “disappointing,” Ross said that workers would eventually get their pay and that there is no reason why a loan would not be a reasonable option for workers who have been staring at zeros on their pay statements.

“Now, true, the people might have to pay a little bit of interest, but the idea that it’s paycheck or zero is not a really valid idea,” said Ross, whose financial disclosure forms show US$700 million in assets.

Trump said that he had not seen Ross’s comments, but added: “I do understand perhaps he should have said it differently.”

Trump said that Ross’ point was that grocery stores, banks and other local entities were “working along” with federal employees to ease the shutdown’s impact.

Ross has “done a great job,” he added.

Other Trump officials have been more effective in conveying their sympathies for those affected by the shutdown.

“Nobody, including myself, likes the hardship caused, the temporary hardship caused by the government shutdown,” US National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said on Thursday. “I have young people on my staff, devoted young people. You know, when you’re 28 years old, you don’t save a lot. I get that, and I think a lot of people have to get through this.”

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