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Shutdown problems mount as workers poised to miss another check

Airports, the FBI, contractors and businesses are among those feeling the impact.
Image: Long lines at security checkpoints at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport amid the government shutdown on Jan. 18, 2019.
Long lines at security checkpoints at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport amid the government shutdown on Jan. 18, 2019.Elijah Nouvelage / Reuters

Problems are piling up at the nation's airports as workers affected by the government shutdown are poised to miss another paycheck.

Unless the government had reopened by midnight — which would have taken a miracle, since the White House and Democrats don't appear to be speaking to one another — federal employees were set to go another pay cycle without compensation, giving them four weeks without pay.

The fallout from the impasse over federal spending on border security was on display at airports across the country on Monday, where the Transportation Security Administration acknowledged that a large number of their agents failed to show up to work, causing longer waits at security lines.

TSA experienced a national rate of unscheduled absences 7.5 percent compared to a 3.3 percent rate one year ago on the same weekday, and "many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations," the agency said in a statement.

The longest waits for travelers were at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where the "max standard wait time" was 46 minutes, the TSA said. Newark Liberty International Airport had waits of about 40 minutes, and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport had waits of about 36 minutes.

Other airports had quicker lines. Boston's Logan International Airport, New York's Westchester County Airport and Palm Beach International Airport in Florida all had wait times of just 10 minutes, the agency said.

The partial shutdown began on Dec. 22, after President Donald Trump declared he wouldn't sign a stopgap measure passed by the Senate that would have kept the government open until Feb. 8 because it didn't include funding to build a wall along the southern border.

On Saturday, Trump proposed ending the shutdown by offering limited protections for so-called Dreamer immigrants who were brought illegally into the United States as minors and offering other enticements in return for $5.7 billion in funding for his wall. Democratic lawmakers, however, have said they won't negotiate on border funding until the government is re-opened, and on Tuesday, the Supreme Court effectively extended Dreamer protections for 10 more months.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, announced on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon that the chamber will hold votes on Trump's proposal on Thursday as well as on a Democratic alternative that would simply re-open the government without providing funding for the wall.

Neither proposal is likely meet the required 60-vote threshold for adoption. The Republican plan would need support from seven Democrats, and the Democratic plan would need backing from 13 Republicans.

Trump has indicated he would veto any bill to reopen the government that doesn't include his requested wall money.

"Without a Wall our Country can never have Border or National Security," Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. "With a powerful Wall or Steel Barrier, Crime Rates (and Drugs) will go substantially down all over the U.S. The Dems know this but want to play political games."

A report from the FBI Agents Association on Tuesday said the shutdown is making the country less safe. The advocacy group, which represents 14,000 current and former agents, said the shutdown has impeded investigations across the country — preventing agents from doing such things as getting records in child sexual assault cases, doing undercover drug buys, or paying confidential sources in gang cases and counterterrorism efforts.

A spokeswoman for the federal court system, meanwhile, said officials had been able to save enough money to keep the courts operating until Jan. 31. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts had initially said the system would run out of money by Jan. 15. "No further extensions beyond Feb. 1 will be possible," the spokeswoman said.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced he was reopening Farm Service Agency offices nationwide "to provide administrative services to farmers and ranchers during the lapse in federal funding," the department said in a news release. The agency's 9,700 workers won't get paid until the shutdown is over. They're being temporarily recalled on Thursday and will staff the agency five days a week for two weeks and three days a week after that, if needed, the release said.

In addition to the 800,000 federal employees who are furloughed or working without pay, an estimated 1.2 million people who had been working on government contracts aren't getting paid either.

Others whose businesses benefit from government operations are feeling the effects too.

With the national parks closed, National Park Inn at Mount Rainier National Park has had to lay off about half its staff so far, said Melinda Simpson, operations manager of concessionaire Rainier Guest Services.

"Do we want to lose any of these people? No," Simpson said. "It's not like a furloughed position where somewhere down the line they're going to get money and and they're going to get payment — they don't get anything. For us as a company, we'll survive. But for the individuals — and really that's what this all about — I don't know."