Look­ing for ways to make ends meet

Fur­loughed fed­eral work­ers turn to GoFundMe cam­paigns, loans and more

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - BUSINESS - Michelle Sin­gle­tary

WASHINGTON >> On his way to Camp David last 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 rent­free 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 spokesper­son, 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 $9,700. 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 that 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 tsp.gov about the shut­down’s im­pact on con­tri­bu­tions, loans and with­drawals.

Work­ers in non-pay sta­tus can­not take out a loan. How­ever, they 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 59½, 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 press 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.

Many peo­ple who work for gov­ern­ment con­trac­tors have al­ready lost pay, and un­like fed­eral em­ploy­ees, they won’t all be made whole.

Read­ers can write to Michelle Sin­gle­tary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email ad­dress is michelle.sin­gle­[email protected]­post.com. Fol­low her on Twit­ter (@Sin­gle­taryM) or Face­book (www.face­book.com/MichelleSin­gle­tary). Com­ments and ques­tions are wel­come, but due to the vol­ume of mail, per­sonal re­sponses may not be pos­si­ble. Please also note com­ments or ques­tions may be used in a fu­ture col­umn, with the writer’s name, un­less a spe­cific re­quest to do oth­er­wise is in­di­cated.

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