Donald Trump Defends Wilbur Ross, Says Grocery Stores, Banks "Work Along" With Federal Employees and Help Them Out

As the government shutdown rolled through its 34th day, President Donald Trump defended the comments of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross who made headlines when he stated that he didn't understand why federal workers needed to make use of free services, such as food pantries.

When questioned about Ross' comments, Trump said that he hadn't heard the statement but he felt that Ross could have phrased his answer better.

However, Trump continued on with his answer, telling reporters gathered for a media briefing that unpaid federal workers should be able to get assistance from banks and grocery stores.

"Local people know who they are when they go for groceries and everything else," Trump said. "So I think what Wilbur was probably trying to say was that they will work along — I know banks are working along. 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, they know the people, they've been dealing with them for years, and they work along. The grocery stores...and I think that's probably what Wilbur Ross meant."

Ross immediately came under fire for his comments on Thursday morning from Democrats, other critics and some of the approximately 800,000 furloughed federal workers who will miss their second consecutive paycheck on Friday.

The Secretary of Commerce clarified his comments in an appearance on Bloomberg Markets: Balance of Power later in the day, saying, "Well, first of all, there are people experiencing hardships. We had a lengthy session with some of the large portions of the workforce yesterday, trying to make sure we understand what their problems are and we are trying to do our best to mitigate them," Ross said.

Ross added that Trump had passed a bill to ensure that the workers will receive back pay once the government reopens.

"We are aware, painfully aware, that there are hardships inflicted on the individual workers," Ross said.

Bloomberg journalist David Westin asked Ross if he understood that many federal workers live paycheck to paycheck and might not be able to walk into their local bank to ask for a loan.

"Is it a practical thing for them to really to borrow money against the promise that the government will give them funds in the future?," Westin asked.

Ross replied that several of the government's employee credit unions were creating proposals to assist furloughed workers.

"Part of my purpose in what I said this morning is to try to make sure that the workers who are experiencing liquidity crisis know that they may be a source that they could go to," Ross said.

However, the Washington Post reports that the Commerce Department, of which Ross is the head, is charging nearly 9 percent for emergency loans to employees. Employees can apply for loans of up to $5,000 with up to 24 months repayment. Other banks and credit unions are also offering loans for federal employees, the Post reports, including Navy Federal Credit Union and U.S. Bank.

The Commerce Department has an estimated 20,000 workers that have not been paid since the partial government shutdown began on Dec. 22.

A Commerce employee told the Post that the agency's credit union gave him a two-month extension on his mortgage, partially explaining Trump's comment that banks are "working along" with federal workers.

In various cities around the United States, those going with a paycheck are turning to food banks and food pantries for groceries. Several food drives have begun to support TSA workers who are considered essential personnel and required to work without pay. As the shutdown continues, the number of TSA workers calling in sick has increased dramatically, with as much as 10 percent of the work force calling out, the Associated Press reported.