The Transportation Security Administration has witnessed a surge in unscheduled absences during the partial government shutdown, now in its fifth week.
The rate of worker absences has steadily climbed in recent days and reached a whopping 10 percent on Sunday, up from 3.1 percent on the corresponding Sunday last year, the agency said Monday in a press release.
“Many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations,” the TSA said.
A spokesman for the agency told HuffPost that data was not immediately available to compare the rate to that of past government shutdowns. But he noted that Sunday’s absence rate was the highest the agency has seen since the current lapse in appropriations began on Dec. 22.
TSA workers are among the 420,000 federal employees working without pay while President Donald Trump is gridlocked with Democrats over funding for his border wall.
Many TSA workers live paycheck to paycheck, earning starting salaries of $25,000 to $30,000 a year, as HuffPost’s Nick Robins-Early reported. The last paycheck these critical federal employees received was on Dec. 28, leaving many scrambling to pay bills and seeking short-term loans to make ends meet.
“To say morale is low is an understatement. People on both sides of the political argument are infuriated at this,” one TSA officer told HuffPost in December. “We feel completely and utterly unappreciated.”
Workers will likely receive back pay after the government reopens, but there is still no clear indication of when that will happen. On Monday, Trump offered to trade temporary protections for young undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, for the $5.7 billion he has demanded for a border wall ― a proposal that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) equated to “hostage taking.”
Despite the high number of unscheduled absences, the TSA said most of the 1.78 million passengers it screened on Sunday experienced waits of less than 30 minutes. National average wait times were within the normal bounds, the agency said, though “some airports experienced longer than usual wait times.”
The TSA was forced to close a security checkpoint at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on Saturday, citing “excessive callouts.”
The agency encouraged travelers around the country to “seek current airline and airport information” and to “allow enough time to get through the airport and board their flight.”