Commerce chief Wilbur Ross to unpaid federal workers: Get a loan

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross takes part in a Cabinet meeting at the White House on Aug. 16, 2018.
(Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty Images)

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 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 were 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.”

The longest shutdown in U.S. history entered its 34th day on Thursday, affecting some 800,000. Pressure is building on President 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 swiftly rebuked by Democrats for failing to understand how many ordinary Americans get by.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a tweet that “this just goes to show how out of touch Trump, his cabinet and Republicans in Washington are. They just don’t understand what it means to live paycheck to paycheck.”

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 extended through March, there’s a chance of zero economic expansion this quarter.

Ross brushed the argument aside that such workers could not make ends meet without finding other work, arguing that although 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.”