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Trump says grocery stores, banks will give furloughed workers a break during shutdown

President Trump on Jan. 24 downplayed earlier remarks by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross about furloughed government workers. (Video: The Washington Post)

President Trump suggested Thursday that grocery stores and banks will give a break to the 800,000 federal workers who are without pay due to the partial government shutdown.

Trump was responding to a question about comments Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made hours earlier. Ross had prompted a wave of criticism after he claimed not to understand why furloughed workers were visiting food banks and suggested they take out a loan to cover their lost wages.

Trump said he hadn’t heard Ross’s statement but acknowledged that “perhaps he should have said it differently.”

He claimed that grocery stores would “work along” with furloughed employees because “they know the people” and have been “dealing with them for years.”

“Local people know who they are, when they go for groceries and everything else,” Trump said of furloughed workers. “And I think what Wilbur was probably trying to say is that they will work along.”

Food banks distribute to federal workers at D.C.-area grocery stores

Trump added that banks, too, are “working along” with furloughed federal employees.

“If you have mortgages, the mortgagees, the folks collecting the interest and all of those things, they work along. And that’s what happens in a time like this,” he said.

With the partial government shutdown in its 34th day Thursday, many of the thousands of workers affected nationwide are scrambling to make ends meet, with some finding themselves turning to charity for the first time.

Across the Washington region, hundreds visited Capital Area Food Bank pop-up markets last week for canned goods and fresh vegetables. In interviews with The Washington Post, many voiced disbelief that they needed help to put food on the table despite having good jobs.

In Thursday’s exchange with reporters, Trump also defended Ross, a billionaire and longtime friend.

“He’s done a great job, I will tell you that,” Trump said.

Ross leads one of the agencies that is directly affected by the shutdown that began Dec. 22, and more than 20,000 of his employees haven’t been paid for weeks. In Thursday’s CNBC interview, he stressed that federal workers should take out loans to cover their expenses, even though they would likely have to pay some interest.

“The idea that it’s paycheck or zero is not a really valid idea,” Ross said. “There’s no reason why some institution wouldn’t be willing to lend.”

David J. Lynch, Damian Paletta and Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.