OPM’s advice for furloughed employees who can’t make rent payments isn’t sitting well

The Office of Personnel Management has some advice for federal employees who are furloughed due to the partial government shutdown, but its suggestion for workers who can’t make rent payments has earned some harsh criticism on social media.

The agency on Thursday provided links to sample letters that federal employees can use to work with a creditor, mortgage company or landlord. The letters are meant to serve as guide for federal employees to prove the impact of the partial government shutdown on their pay.

One sample letter intended for an employee’s landlord suggested federal workers offer to barter their services in exchange for lower rent payments during the partial shutdown.

“I will keep in touch with you to keep you informed about my income status and I would like to discuss with you the possibility of trading my services to perform maintenance (e.g. painting, carpentry work) in exchange for partial rent payments,” the letter reads.

That line in particular has earned a variety of reactions on social media.

OPM has provided similar letters to furloughed federal employees during past government shutdowns. The agency itself  can’t provide employees with free legal advice and suggested furloughed workers consult with a personal attorney or contact a state or county bar association for a lawyer referral.

The agency also suggested employees actually speak to their creditors, mortgage companies and landlords first before sending a letter describing their current situations.

“Just sending a letter may not be very effective as it will take a fair amount of time to get to the
individual who needs to see it, if at all,” OPM wrote. “Speaking with your creditors will enable you to work out the details of any payment plan that you can later confirm with your letter.”

OPM’s advice comes as some federal employees are taking to social media to describe their financial hardships during the lapse in appropriations using the “ShutdownStories” hashtag.

According to a Federal News Network survey last week of 194 respondents, 48 percent said the partial shutdown would impact their finances. Slightly more, or about 51 percent, said the shutdown would have an impact on their morale and feelings toward their agencies.

For some federal employees, the pinch of living paycheck to paycheck is real, and the events from 2013 are an example.

The Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund, which offers assistance to federal workers in times of need, gave out a record high of nearly $300,000 in one month during 2013, when the organization was overwhelmed with loan requests from employees on furlough due to sequestration.

FEEA said it doesn’t have plans at the moment to offer special help during this partial shutdown. FEEA’s regular loan assistance program is open and always available to federal employees in need, Robyn Kehoe, FEEA deputy director, said in an email.