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Trump’s Billionaire Commerce Secretary Doesn’t Understand Why Furloughed Employees Need Money to Eat

wilbur ross holds a can of soup while being awful

We are more than a month into the longest U.S. government shutdown in history, and hundreds of thousands of people are being forced to work without pay or not work at all. As of tomorrow, two paycheck cycles will have gone by since the shutdown began and GoFundMe is being flooded with campaigns seeking help for families struggling to get by. Across the country, food banks are reporting an increase in demand as furloughed workers struggle to make ends meet for basic necessities.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump–who managed to con a not-quite-majority of voters into believing that he actually cared about working Americans–seems unperturbed by the hardships facing so many people. That’s not exactly surprising, considering he was born into wealth and has most definitely never been in a situation where missing one paycheck could derail his whole life.

Now, billionaire (or possibly only multimillionaire) commerce secretary Wilbur Ross has chimed in to say that he, too, doesn’t get what the big deal is regarding this whole not-having-money thing.

During an interview with CNBC, Ross said he didn’t understand why furloughed workers don’t just take out loans to make it through. “I know they are [going to food pantries] 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,” he 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.”

First of all, while most government workers are being told they will receive back pay, there are a lot of third-party government contractors who will not.

Beyond that, it’s been 30+ days so far, but Trump has said he’s willing to let the shutdown go on for years. Ross is suggesting people take out an unknowable amount to cover an unknowable amount of time. He also assumes that every government worker has good enough credit for those loans to only accrue “a little bit of interest,” or even to get a loan at all.

CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin pushed back on the idea that loans are even an ethical option right now. “So it should be put on the private sector? he asked. “The private sector needs to step up where the public sector can’t?”

Ross said that he’s seen “ads run by a number of the public-sector credit unions,” which doesn’t address the issue of the government not paying its employees. He also fails to mention that his own Department of Commerce federal credit union is charging upwards of 9% interest on emergency loans to furloughed workers.

People like Ross have never experienced what it’s like to fall behind financially, to borrow against yourself only to find it impossible to ever catch up. They’re the ones that benefit when others find themselves in that scenario.

Ross also doesn’t think 800,000 is that many people when you think about it. “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 on our GDP,” Ross said. “So it’s not like it’s a gigantic number overall.”

This is the same Wilbur Ross, by the way, who fought alongside Trump for the revitalization of the coal industry. As the Washington Post reports, “There are 54,000 people who work in coal mining in the United States” and “Ross bragged about saving a grand total of about 3,000 coal jobs.”

It’s also this Wilbur Ross:

And yes, there are pictures.

Actual footage of Wilbur Ross debating the effects of the shutdown, I assume:

Of course, for most of those 800,000 government workers, this isn’t about the GDP. It’s about suddenly finding it difficult to eat or pay rent or buy medicine.

Ross and Trump aren’t alone in their callousness. We’ve heard similar sentiments from others in and around this administration.

Senator Chuck Schumer called Ross’ comments “unreal,” but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had the very response, IMO.

(image: screencap, CNBC)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.