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While administration officials in Washington advise unpaid federal workers to take out loans and seek credit from friendly grocers rather than visit food pantries, the financial industry is donating relief funds as a partial government shutdown was nearing its sixth week.
The latest is J.P. Morgan Chase, which told employees in a note from CEO Jamie Dimon on Friday it was giving $1 million to Feeding America and United Way Worldwide to provide meals, financial services, counseling and other aid to federal workers and their families.
"We want a reasonable solution to the shutdown and want to see it end immediately," Dimon said. J.P. Morgan will match employee donations to the same organizations and make volunteer opportunities available.
On Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump announced an agreement that would reopen the government for three weeks. Congress will have to vote on the agreement before he can sign it.
A day earlier, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross ignited a storm when he told CNBC he didn't understand why federal workers would be visiting shelters for assistance when they could take out loans to cover their cash flow. The government has promised back pay when it reopens, "there's no real reason why they shouldn't be able to get a loan against it," Ross said.
Trump, later defending Ross's comments, added that local businesses like grocers would "work along" with the federal workers until they can get back to work. More than 800,000 workers have been working without pay or told to stay home since Dec. 22, putting families and communities under financial stress. On Friday, they missed their second paycheck because of the shutdown.
"Local people know who they are when they go for groceries and everything else," Trump said. "And I think what Wilbur was probably trying to say is 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."
Already credit unions like PenFed that work with federal employees were pitching in to provide relief to members. A number of them are offering no-interest loans to cover lost pay during the shutdown.
Congress was trying to hammer out a way to reopen the government after the Senate failed to pass two bills on Thursday. On Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration halted flights temporarily into New York's LaGuardia Airport due to a shortage of air traffic controllers, who are among those working without pay. Flights were also delayed at other airports, including Newark Liberty International.
Here's what it says:
Message from Jamie Dimon
As the government shutdown drags on, I want you to know that we're working hard to help our communities and our customers, just as we do whenever they are struggling. And we're looking at other ways that we — and you — can help.
Right away in December, we reached out to customers to offer help and are automatically refunding their checking account overdraft and service fees. We also activated our Special Care Line with a team of specialists who have extended payments on customers' car loans, provided 90-day relief on their mortgages, and removed minimum payments on their credit cards, limiting the impact on their credit reports. And we're looking at ways to help small businesses, such as bridge loans for our customers seeking SBA real estate loans.
Please help us get the word out to your friends, neighbors and family hurt by the shutdown, to call our Special Care Line at 888-356-0023. We're here to help our customers, whether they're a government worker, a government contractor or simply an employee at the diner across from a shuttered federal office.
Today, JPMorgan Chase is also committing $1 million to Feeding America and United Way Worldwide to provide meals, financial services, counseling, and other assistance to federal workers and their families who are in need. You can also contribute to these organizations. We will match your donations and make volunteer opportunities available for employees who wish to support these and other organizations stepping up.
We want a reasonable solution to the shutdown and want to see it end immediately. In the meantime, we continue to serve those who need help.
Thank you for all you do to drive our business forward and strengthen our communities, especially in times of great need.