Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross spoke out Thursday morning about the current shutdown, and his comments are generating a lot of raised eyebrows and backlash. President’s Trump pick for this position has had some significant gaffes before, but these latest comments are definitely not landing with the impact he intended.
As the Hill details, Ross just appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box — and was asked about the current partial government shutdown. The Commerce Secretary’s reply shocked many, both those impacted by the shutdown and those who are following the stories of workers feeling desperate about the lack of paychecks.
When the topic of people relying on food banks to get by was brought up, Ross said he knew many were using food banks, but admitted “I don’t really quite understand why.”
Ross, who is reportedly worth about $700 million, explained that he believed those who are now facing a second missed paycheck should be able to get a loan against the pay they expect to receive down the road when the shutdown is over.
“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 of financial institutions doing that.”
Asked about reports that federal workers are going to homeless shelters to get food amid the shutdown, Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross says he doesn't "quite understand why" because their backpay is "in effect, federally guaranteed" and they should "be able to get a loan against it" pic.twitter.com/xHVJ94UO8p— CNBC (@CNBC) January 24, 2019
In Ross’ opinion, those not receiving pay right now should be able to use the promise of eventual pay to get a bridge loan to cover their expenses for now. While a number of banks and credit unions have offered no-interest or low-interest loans to help some of those affected by the shutdown, that hardly means that it’s an avenue available to everybody.
A large number of those struggling during this partial government shutdown are contractors, people with a wide range of positions and incomes, who in all likelihood will get no back pay whatsoever. Even for those who will eventually get back pay, they are scrambling to pay for their rent or mortgage, credit card bills, utilities, childcare, medical costs, and other essential items. Utilizing food banks is a necessary step for many families who don’t know when they will get a paycheck again.
Even with numerous banks or credit unions offering loans, that doesn’t mean that every furloughed employee or contractor has access to those programs. Some may not be approved, and those who can’t borrow against expected back pay are left with few options.
Ross also downplayed the impact these workers will have on the overall economy. As Roll Call noted, the commerce secretary said that while he’s sorry for those hardships, they made up a small percentage of the country’s overall economy.
“You’re talking about a third of a percent on our GDP. So, it’s not like it’s a gigantic number overall.”
CNN reporter Kaitlin Collins wrote a Twitter post claiming that she has also heard Ross say that he doesn’t understand why air traffic controllers have been calling out of work in high numbers. Those air traffic controllers are one of many groups of workers who are expected to work on a delayed pay schedule during the shutdown.
In some cases, workers are sharing that they are struggling to put gas in the car to get to work. Others may not be able to pay for childcare to work while they remain unpaid. Ross apparently responded that the controllers are eventually going to be paid, seemingly befuddled by why they might be calling in sick in the meantime.
This latest appearance of Wilbur Ross has many critics feeling that the commerce secretary is painfully out of touch with the everyday people who are hurting as a result of this shutdown. This is just the latest in a long line of similar comments from Ross and those affected are likely frustrated by what seems like a lack of understanding and compassion.