- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2019

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Wednesday the District will offer zero-interest loans of up to $5,000 to people who might not be able to pay their mortgage this month because of the partial federal government shutdown.

Miss Bowser said the $9 million program will be managed by the city’s housing and finance agency and is one piece of broader efforts to “step in the place” of the federal government, which is hamstrung amid its longest-ever shutdown.

Federal workers are set to miss their second paycheck in a row on Friday, as the shutdown over President Trump’s demands for border-wall funding drags into a fifth week.

Miss Bowser said there are more than 70,000 D.C. residents suffering from the impasse.

“We, perhaps more than anybody, are in the belly of the beast of this shutdown,” she said at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ winter meeting in the nation’s capital.



Miss Bowser also is posting $2 million to help food-stamp recipients and pushing emergency legislation that would authorize the District to provide unemployment benefits to people who are deemed essential and must work through the shutdown without pay.

The Labor Department rejected her request to allow people who are still toiling to tap unemployment benefits. Agency guidance stemming from 2013 says only workers who are off the job and furloughed at home are eligible for benefits.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam this week sought assurance from Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta that his state would not be punished if it decides to extend benefits to essential workers. He also wants to know if the state will be reimbursed for those benefits and administrative costs of doling them out.

He said Virginia is home to 64,000 federal workers who are impacted by the shutdown, so he’s been forced to find creative ways to help them.

“You have the ability to help with measures states can take to provide relief to essential personnel bearing the brunt of the impact of the federal government shutdown,” Mr. Northam, a Democrat, told Mr. Acosta.

Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom defied the Trump administration by encouraging Transportation Security Administration agents to apply for unemployment benefits.

Beyond unemployment insurance, U.S. senators from Virginia and Maryland said existing dental and vision benefits may be at risk for thousands of federal workers.

The quartet of Senate Democrats criticized the federal Office of Personnel Management for issuing guidance that says unpaid workers will be billed directly for premiums that would normally be deducted from their paychecks, now that two pay periods have lapsed. They urged OPM to work with contractors who administer the benefits and devise a system that ensures coverage.

Its unreasonable to expect workers to tap savings accounts or scrounge together direct payments simply because they’re not being paid by their federal employer, the senators said.

“Your guidance to employees has been insufficient and fails to account for the significant financial strain already placed on these employees and their families,” they wrote. “If the status quo persists, you are undoubtedly risking the health and wellness of federal workers, their spouses, and children enrolled in federal vision and dental plans.”

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