Th US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross expressed confusion at reports that many unpaid federal were having such a tough financial time during the government shutdown, suggesting instead that those people could take out loans to survive the partial government closure.
During an interview on CNBC on Thursday, Ross said that the 800,000 federal workers going without pay could take out a loan against their future back pay to bridge the financial gap during the shutdown, rather than turn to food banks and shelters to make it through the closure.
“I know they are and I don’t understand why 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,” Ross said. “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, and we’ve seen a number of ads from financial institutions doing that.”
To Ross point, the roughly 420,000 federal workers being forced to stay on the job with no paycheck will automatically receive back pay when the government reopens, while Congress passed a bill to give the 380,000 furloughed workers back pay as well.
But in the interim many of those workers are trying to deal with the financial strain and federal contractors — third-party businesses that rely on the government for a good portion of their work — do not receive back pay.
“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,” Ross said. “There’s no reason why some institution wouldn’t be willing to lend.”
Ross, who has a net worth of about $860 million, also downplayed the economic effect of the shutdown. Many economists have warned that the shutdown is taking a serious toll on first-quarter GDP growth.
“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 of GDP. So it’s not like it’s a gigantic number overall,” Ross said.
In contrast the White House’s own projections show that the shutdown will shave 0.13 percentage points off of US economic growth for every week the closure lasts. Kevin Hassett, the chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, also told CNN on Wednesday that first-quarter GDP could be close to zero if the shutdown lasts through March.
The government shutdown is now in its 34th day and, based on the state of negotiations between President Donald Trump and Democrats, it doesn’t look like it will end anytime soon.