WASHINGTON ― Democrats on Wednesday introduced legislation that would give relief to furloughed federal workers who are unable to pay rent or repay loans as a result of the ongoing government shutdown.
The national government has been partially closed since Dec. 21, and the consequences are mounting ― for national parks and airports, food inspections and emergency preparations, and a host of other services.
This week, some 800,000 federal workers will start missing paychecks. Many who were forced off the job told HuffPost that they’re fearful about taking on debt to cover housing, medicine and food costs.
President Donald Trump said Wednesday that the shutdown could continue “for as long as it takes,” with Democrats holding fast to their refusal to fund construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that Trump had repeatedly said Mexico would pay for.
The Federal Employee Civil Relief Act, introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), aims to give those workers a helping hand while the government remains shuttered.
The bill would prohibit landlords and creditors from taking action against federal workers or contractors who are hurt by the shutdown and cannot pay rent or repay loans. It would also allow federal workers to sue creditors or landlords that violate those protections, which would remain in effect during and for 30 days after a shutdown.
The bill is modeled after the Servicemembers Relief Act of 1940, which protects military members from being sued while in active service for their country and for up to a year after active duty.
The new proposal “prevents eviction, foreclosure, repossession, and loss of insurance. It basically allows any federal worker or contractor who is behind on monthly expenses to have relief until the government is reopened,” Schatz told HuffPost on Wednesday.
The bill has broad support from Democrats in the House and Senate, but no Republican co-sponsors ― yet. Schatz said he hoped to get at least a few of them on board.
Some banks have already moved to forgive late payments and service fees from furloughed federal workers, including Wells Fargo, Chase and Capital One.
Over the weekend, Trump told reporters that he could empathize with those who aren’t getting paid as a result of the shutdown.
“I can relate,” he said on Sunday. “And I’m sure that the people that are toward the receiving end will make adjustments, they always do. And they’ll make adjustments. People understand exactly what’s going on.”
“Many of those people that won’t be receiving a paycheck, many of those people agree 100 percent with what I’m doing,” the president added without evidence.Trump later encouraged landlords and lenders to “be nice and easy” to furloughed workers.
UPDATE: Jan. 10 ― Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Thursday that while he had not yet seen Schatz’s proposal, he welcomed the concept of legal protections for furloughed federal workers.
“I certainly support the idea that we should be protecting them. I feel terrible for them. It’s not their fault. They’re caught in the crosshairs of something that has nothing to do with them and it’s unfair,” Rubio told HuffPost.
Arthur Delaney contributed to this report.