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Furloughed Workers Forced to Loan Uncle Sam Money for Expenses

As if going without pay during the monthlong partial government shutdown isn’t enough, thousands of federal workers are dealing with another financial indignity: servicing debt on government-issued credit cards.

They are receiving credit card bills — for which they are personally responsible — for work-related expenses they incurred before the shutdown, but can’t get reimbursed because their agencies are mostly closed and funds are frozen.

“It’s just crazy what we’re having to put up with,” said Michael Gonzales, a regional vice president of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union. “Something has to be done here. It’s just bizarre.”

JPMorgan Chase & Co., one of several companies issuing government credit cards, will shield employees from downgrades to their credit scores for late payments, said spokesman Thomas Kelly.

“We don’t charge late fees or interest on those cards, and have been telling that to the employees,” Kelly said. “We also have told them to pay us once they get reimbursed.”

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That’s consistent with the agreement issuers have with the government but it hasn’t eliminated the concerns of Gonzales’s members. Some of his members, aviation safety inspectors who are often required to travel for work, don’t have the savings to pay the bills, he said.

The number of federal employees who have received such bills at shuttered agencies probably numbers in the tens of thousands said an official with the American Federation of Government Employees union who asked not to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak about the issue. Almost all agencies now insist that employees put work credit cards in their own names and pay the bills themselves.