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TSA Workers Reach Out To Private Organizations For Help During Shutdown

The Atlanta Community Food Bank distributes food to Transportation Security Agents in Atlanta. Employees of the federal agency have worked for weeks without pay.
The Atlanta Community Food Bank distributes food to Transportation Security Agents in Atlanta. Employees of the federal agency have worked for weeks without pay.
Credit Sam Whitehead / WABE

Transportation Security Agency employees in Atlanta are feeling pinched after working for weeks without pay. As the partial government shutdown rolls on, some are turning to private organizations for assistance.

A line of dozens of cars snaked around the parking lot of TSA’s Atlanta headquarters Friday morning, as the agency’s employees waited to pick up food being distributed by the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

The group brought 40,000 pounds of food to the event, enough to provide fresh and canned goods to more than 1,500 TSA employees waiting for the government to re-open to get paid.

“It’s frustrating because, we know what we signed up for, but at the end of the day you want to get paid for what you do. This is real, people are really getting to the point where even if you’ve got savings, it’s kind of getting low,” said Stevie Lockett, who’s been with TSA for 16 years.

Locket said he’s been showing up to work, despite the lack of a paycheck. But many TSA employees haven’t been.

The agency has reported a bump in unscheduled worker absences. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport felt those no-shows acutely this week when wait times at security checkpoints stretched to more than an hour.

“The last furlough, it didn’t last, we ended up getting our checks so it was a little scare, but this one, it’s major,” said Levetta Kirby, who’s worked for TSA for 17 years.

She’s under additional pressure: her children’s father also works for the federal government, so both their incomes are affected.

Kirby said she had to decide between paying for her daughter to play on the school basketball team or keeping the lights on and paying her mortgage.

“We’re all unsure now,” Kirby said of herself and fellow government workers. “It’s personal.”

Claudia Montero-Flores has also been with the TSA for years. She said the lack of a paycheck during the partial shutdown has forced her to look wherever she can for assistance.

“Yesterday, I was applying for food stamps. I’m going to be 45 this year, and I’ve never done that before. I feel a little weird because I’m able to work, “and I am working, but not to get paid is a little weird,” she said.

But even the future of federal programs like food stamp, or SNAP benefits, are uncertain.

The program just barely found the money to fund benefits for the month of February, and there’s no word on what will happen in March.