The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump is right. Unpaid federal workers are making ‘adjustments’ — soliciting money from strangers and taking out loans.

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On his way to Camp David on Sunday, President Trump was questioned about the financial strain the partial government shutdown has put on workers.

“Mr. President, do you relate to the pain of federal workers who can’t pay their bills?” a reporter asked.

“I can relate,” Trump said. “And I’m sure that the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustments. They always do. And they’ll make adjustments.”

How can Trump, a self-proclaimed billionaire living rent-free in the White House, relate to the plight of people living paycheck to paycheck? It was a tone-deaf response about the financial struggles many workers are experiencing and the anxiety of those federal employees who will miss their first paychecks starting this week. Many people who work for government contractors have already lost pay, and unlike federal employees, they won’t all be made whole.

But Trump is right. People are making “adjustments.” Here are some of their methods of making ends meet:

Workers are soliciting money from strangers to help them pay their bills. Since the shutdown, $50,000 has been raised through 700 GoFundMe campaigns, according to the company’s spokesman, Bobby Whithorne.

“Being a contracted government worker, I’m losing pay every day that this government shutdown continues,” wrote Julie Burr in one of the more successful crowdfunding appeals.

As of Jan. 8, Burr — who said her husband passed away last year from a heart attack — has raised nearly $9,400. Her goal was $5,000.

Many government shutdown appeals haven’t raised any money, while others have garnered a few hundred dollars so far. If you’re worried about fraud, Whithorne said GoFundMe’s Trust & Safety division is reviewing all campaigns related to the government shutdown.

“We have a team of experts monitoring the platform, and we deploy multiple technical tools to verify fundraisers,” he said.

GoFundMe already discovered someone falsely claiming he was affected by the shutdown.

“We placed the campaign’s funds on hold, and we required the campaign organizer to post an update stating he was not impacted by the shutdown,” Whithorne said. “We will also offer refunds to donors.”

Workers are dipping into their retirement funds. Some employees may resort to tapping their Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which is the federal government’s version of a 401(k) plan.

The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board has issued a fact sheet for workers on about the shutdown’s impact on contributions, loans and withdrawals.

Workers can ask for a hardship withdrawal, according to Kim Weaver, director of external affairs at the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board.

But if an employee is younger than 59 ½, there’s a 10 percent early-withdrawal penalty. Non-Roth withdrawals are subject to federal income tax and, in some cases, state income tax.

Year-over-year — starting from Dec. 26 through Jan. 3 — there has been a relatively small uptick of 340 hardship loans, Weaver said.

Employees who take a financial-hardship withdrawal can’t make contributions to their TSP accounts for six months. If they get back pay, they cannot return or repay the money removed from their TSP account, according to the board.

Employees have applied for loans. Just as the shutdown began, Navy Federal Credit Union announced a plan to provide a one-time loan up to a maximum of $6,000 to federal-government employees and active-duty members of the Coast Guard who have an established direct-deposit account. There is no credit check, and there are no fees or interest charges associated with this loan.

A little more than 100,000 Navy Federal members are affected by the shutdown, according to a spokesman. Of those members, 6,000 enrolled as of Jan. 7 in the loan program in anticipation of not getting their paychecks this week and next.

“We expect that number to increase,” the spokesman said.

The credit union will accept registration for the loan program until three business days after a member’s scheduled payday.

Workers have filed for unemployment. However, for many people, the checks won’t be nearly enough to meet their needs. By the way, unemployment benefits are subject to federal income tax.

“I feel just awful about filing for unemployment benefits,” one federal employee said, responding to one of my columns about the shutdown. “It is really hurting my pride, even though I did nothing to deserve being furloughed.”

During a news conference in the Rose Garden last week, American Urban Radio Networks’ White House correspondent April Ryan asked Trump: “What is the safety net for federal workers? You’re saying months and possibly a year for this shutdown. Do you have in mind a safety net for those who need their checks?”

“Well, the safety net is going to be having a strong border, because we’re going to be safe,” Trump said.

Hyperbole about a wall Mexico was supposed to pay for, Mr. President, won’t pay anyone’s bills.