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Letter suggesting furloughed workers do chores to cover rent was posted by accident, OPM says

During an unannounced visit to Iraq on Dec. 26, President Trump told reporters he was willing to continue a partial government shutdown. (Video: The Washington Post)

The agency that oversees the government’s civilian workforce is facing scrutiny after suggesting federal employees affected by the partial government shutdown barter with their landlords if they can’t make rent payments, advice that it later said was posted “inadvertently.”

On Thursday, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management tweeted sample letters to help the roughly 800,000 affected workers negotiate with creditors and mortgage companies. One letter, meant for employees to send to their landlords, discussed a temporary reduction in rent payments and suggests “the possibility of trading my services to perform maintenance (e.g. painting, carpentry work) in exchange for partial rent payments.”

On CNN on Saturday morning, Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, called the suggestion about trading services for reduced rent “laughable” and “unfortunate.”

“I think it’s disgusting, candidly,” Reardon said on “New Day.” He added, “It’s wrong to treat human beings this way.”

An estimated 350,000 workers are on furlough at home without pay because of the ongoing partial shutdown over Trump’s demand for $5 billion in funding for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall. The rest are working without pay because of the “essential” nature of their jobs. The partial shutdown entered its eighth day on Saturday.

Critics on social media were also quick to express their discontent with the letter.

The Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine” shows OPM has offered similar advice for furloughed workers in the past, such as in 2015 when Barack Obama was president, as some pointed out.

In a Saturday statement, an OPM spokesman said the document was posted “inadvertently" and that the language was from the 2013 government shutdown. The office “regrets any unintended concern caused by legacy documentation,” the spokesman wrote.

“OPM - itself acting with limited resources during the furlough period – inadvertently posted a legacy document from the 2013 shutdown.  Although most federal employees have yet to miss a paycheck, OPM recognizes that many employees are concerned about the financial implications of a continued lapse.  As such, OPM sought to provide a set of templates and information that could be used proactively by employees to address potential financial challenges, in the event that Congress does not resolve the lapse in appropriations before the end of the next pay cycle.  Since discovering the out-of-date documents, OPM updated the website to reflect current information, and regrets any unintended concern caused by legacy documentation.”
— Office of Personnel Management

Critics also called OPM’s tweet tone-deaf for telling furloughed workers to “consult with [a] personal attorney” for legal advice.

The partial shutdown is expected to last until at least the start of the new year. On Friday, Trump issued an order to freeze federal employee salary rates in 2019. In a statement, Reardon likened the order to “pouring salt on the wound.”

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