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'The rent is not going to happen.' TSA officers brace for second missed paycheck as shutdown drags on

Key Points
  • TSA officers are set to miss a second paycheck due to the government shutdown.
  • The more than 50,000 officers are among 420,000 essential federal employees who have been ordered to work despite the shutdown.
  • Air traffic controllers and some aviation safety inspectors are also working without pay.
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents screen passengers at a security checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport amid the partial federal government shutdown, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., January 18, 2019.
Elijah Nouvelage | Reuters

Transportation Security Administration officers are bracing for a second missed paycheck, as the partial government shutdown drags on into its second month.

"The rent is not going to happen," one TSA officer at New York's LaGuardia Airport on Wednesday told CNBC. The officer, a father of two and the sole breadwinner in his house, said he plans to ask his landlord in upper Manhattan for an extension on rent that's due on Feb. 1. He asked not to be named because he's not authorized to speak to the press.

The more than 50,000 TSA officers are among the some 420,000 "essential" federal employees who've been ordered to work without pay during the shutdown, which began Dec. 22 because of a standoff between President Donald Trump and lawmakers over funding for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. The group also includes air traffic controllers. The Federal Aviation Administration said earlier this month that it also was calling back about 3,000 safety inspectors who had been furloughed.

There is a chance officers' pay could be processed in time for Friday payday, if the shutdown ends on Wednesday, a TSA spokesman said.

The officers have been calling out in greater numbers in recent weeks, some due to financial strain, the TSA said. The staffing shortages prompted officials to consolidate security checkpoints, creating long lines at some of the country's busiest airports in Miami, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Atlanta, which is the world's busiest airport, is expecting big crowds when the city hosts the Super Bowl on Feb. 3.

On Tuesday, unscheduled absences of TSA officers reached 7.4 percent of the force, more than double the rate from a year ago, the agency said Wednesday. Most passengers were screened within the agency's standard of 30 minutes or less, but long lines materialized in Boston and Atlanta.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, meanwhile, issued a strong warning.

"This is already the longest government shutdown in the history of the United States and there is no end in sight. In our risk averse industry, we cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play, nor predict the point at which the entire system will break," NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said in a statement. "It is unprecedented."

Another officer, a father of three, said he plans to contact his bank because he likely won't be able to make a mortgage payment on his house in northern Queens and that he'll stay there "until we get evicted."

The officer, who declined to give his name because he wasn't authorized to speak with reporters, said he continues to show up because he's worried about getting fired if he doesn't.

One TSA officer said he had a "lot of money saved up" and is hopeful "we'll get paid eventually."

The TSA has been calling in officers who usually help with staffing shortages during natural disasters or during surges in travel to compensate for a rise in the absences of airport screeners.

Airlines are starting to assess the impact from the shutdown. Delta Air Lines' CEO Ed Bastian last week said the shutdown will cost the Atlanta-based carrier $25 million in January as fewer government employees and contractors are traveling. Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines, which has a large presence at Washington Dulles International Airport, said the airline is concerned but has not seen an impact yet.

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Delta CEO: There's slight reduction in January revenue due to shutdown