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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder, CFP®

UPDATED: Oct 16, 2013

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Representative Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) recently learned just how quickly disgruntled workers can backfire.

He wrote a Facebook post stating that furloughed federal workers affected by the shutdown can turn to personal loans when faced with bill deadlines.

The past 16 days of the government shutdown have brought a wave of inappropriate and untimely comments from both sides of the aisle, and Pearce, a House Republican who represents the second district of New Mexico, is now among them.

The Facebook post stated the following:

If you are a furloughed government employee, we encourage you to reach out to your financial institution as soon as you worry you may miss a paycheck. Financial Institutions often offer short-term loans and other resources. Don’t want until you are behind on a bill; call now and explore your options.

Pearce’s spokesperson said that a staffer posted the comment and it was not the direct work of the Representative himself.

Despite being removed from Facebook quickly after its initial post, it was not a minor staff error, according to Charles Ellison, a politics contributor for The Root.

Hypocrisy Abounds

The post was likely meant to be informative, but it failed and instead showed a large disparity between political leaders and those they represent.

Pearce has an estimated net worth of about $8 million, according to CG Roll Call. This ranks him in the top 50 on a list for the richest members of Congress.

In contrast, his constituents are among the poorest in the nation. The average per capita income of New Mexico residents in 2012 was $35,079. The United States average for the same year was $42,693. The disparity between the two sums illustrates that Pearce has no concept of the issues and struggles facing his state residents.

Ellison said that policymakers need to view the shutdown and debt ceiling issue “within a regional and demographic context.”

But this local context is absent.

“Pearce is among a very vocal and influential contingent of conservatives from very rural red districts where nationally only 20 percent of the population is concentrated,” he said. “There’s something of a frontier mentality that’s dominating contemporary policy discourse, reminiscent of nullification and secession language from the Civil War era.”

According to Ellison, Pearce and other similar representatives have a “cultural disdain” for federal district workers because the people proudly view themselves as strong and self-sufficient.

The Facebook posts illustrated another instance of hypocrisy. The post pleaded with residents, stating “don’t wait until you are behind on a bill,” yet that’s all that Congress and the House of Representatives have been doing. Political leaders delayed making important and essential decisions about Obamacare and the debt ceiling and instead allowed the government to shutdown.

Ellison agrees that this statement is contradictory, but stated that politics is always about optics.

“Members play crisis management everyday as they constantly mold their image,” he said. “Pearce and others are exercising a bit of rhetorical flourish here to make it appear as if they are being effective in their capacity.”

A similar event occurred at a veteran protest at the WWII memorial. In an attempt to show their support but also gain a photo opportunity, several political members including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin showed up.

The optics end up distracting “the real issue and the root problem,” Ellison said.

Loan Availability

Many government employees are still absent from work. During this forced time off, they are missing weeks of pay that they will likely never receive. For families and single employees that rely on a strict budget, this shutdown is a devastating situation.

A personal loan like Peace suggested would help the workers pay for a few bills, but the post fails to mention how the workers will pay back the loan. If a consumer needs a personal loan to pay bills, it means that they do not have sufficient savings to cover the cost.

Once the furloughed government employees return to work and receive their first check, those who live paycheck to paycheck will not have sufficient funds to pay off another monthly bill. The repayment charge on the personal loan will only further add to their monthly debt obligations.

“Taking out a loan is a rather simple proposition for someone like Peace,” Ellison said.

He continued stating that the post shows a disturbing strain of detachment about the financial realities that many Americans face.

“There is an expectation that everyone is in a position to access lines of credit and wealth despite the fact poverty rates are still high, unemployment is still high and that we’re still climbing out of a recession,” he said. “Those who aren’t able to take out a loan are viewed as inept or lazy or as social outcasts.”

Even for those furloughed employees who can apply for personal loans, many lenders have limited access to capital in the past few weeks. Pearce failed to realize that lending for personal loans, business loans and mortgage loans, among others, has all but stalled due to the government shutdown. Many government-run regulatory and fact-checking agencies that confirm employment and credit scores have closed or limited their business.

Joe Parsons, senior loan officer for PFS Funding, said key parts of the government like the IRS and Social Security verification “brings everyone’s loan process to a screeching halt.”

“The problems with the shutdown goes far beyond just interruption of income,” he said.

The lack of information available from these government offices has deterred lenders from making new loans. Unverified loans carry more risk for the lenders.

The Facebook post is simply a failure to research his constituents properly, Ellison said.

“Simply put, Pearce’s office doesn’t really know or has not completely studied the full impact of the government shutdown,” he said.