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Wilbur Ross Clarifies His Criticized Shutdown Remarks

Commerce chief says he's 'painfully aware' furloughed workers are suffering
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 24, 2019 7:07 PM CST
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.   (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

(Newser) – Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross took much grief on Thursday when he said he didn't "really quite understand" why furloughed federal workers were showing up at food banks when they could take out a loan instead. Given that Ross is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 million, the comments were immediately seized upon by critics as being out of touch. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, for instance, both described them as the modern equivalent of "let them eat cake," reports the Daily Beast. Later in the afternoon, however, Ross did another interview in which he took pains to say that he knew furloughed workers were struggling, reports the Hill. "We're aware, painfully aware, that there are hardships inflicted on the individual workers," Ross said on Bloomberg TV.

"All I was trying to do is make sure they’re aware there are possible other things that could help somewhat mitigate their problems," said Ross. He was referring to the fact that banks and credit unions have begun offering low- and zero-interest loans to federal workers, loans that can be paid off when back pay arrives. Ross said his earlier comments were to "make sure that workers who are experiencing liquidity crises know that may be a source that they could go to." However, as the Hill notes, not all federal workers will be getting back pay. The Washington Post, meanwhile, reports that the Commerce Department's own federal credit union is charging 9% interest for emergency loans. (Two bills to end the shutdown failed in the Senate Thursday, though the failures could lead to new negotiations.)

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