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As shutdown looms, South Florida TSA agents must work without pay

A Transportation Security Administration officer works at a checkpoint at Miami International Airport
Lynne Sladky
FILE : A Transportation Security Administration officer works at a checkpoint at Miami International Airport, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019, in Miami.

Damian Deleonardo, who works for the Transportation Security Administration in South Florida, may be facing his third federal government shutdown, beginning Sunday.

So he knows that, as an essential worker for federal government, he must report to work at Palm Beach International Airport. But he also knows he won't get a paycheck during the shutdown.

"It's emotionally draining for officers who have to show up every day and not know when the paycheck is coming," he said.

Deleonardo and his TSA co-workers are among the millions of federal government employees who could be affected by the expected shutdown.

Late Friday, a shutdown seemed all but certain to begin Sunday, the start of the federal government's new fiscal year, because House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's last-ditch plan to keep the federal government temporarily open collapsed in dramatic fashion. A a robust faction of hard-right holdouts rejected a spending package.

The bill’s complete failure a day before Saturday’s deadline to fund the government leaves few options to prevent a shutdown that will furlough federal workers, keep the military working without pay and disrupt programs and services for millions of Americans.

Florida has more than 6,100 TSA workers, ranking the state among the highest in the nation. TSA workers, including Deleonardo, will have to continue working without pay until lawmakers reach a resolution.

Deleonardo said it's hard to focus on work while worried about putting food on the table or finding the money to pay his bills.

In addition to being a father of four kids, he's also a union leader with the American Federation of Government Employees Local 558, a union that represents 1,400 TSA agents in South Florida.

"Last shutdown, some AMGE members, after their scheduled shift where they wasn’t making money, they actually went and drove for Uber and Lyft or went to do other things to try and provide an income when there was no income," he said.

READ MORE: What would a federal government shutdown mean for me?

He said the financial impact is devastating, noting that TSA workers had turn to charities like Feeding South Florida to keep food on the table during the last shutdown in 2018, which lasted over a month.

He said he hopes Congress can come up with a solution to keep TSA agents paid, but he's not optimistic.

"At the moment, it doesn't look too good," he said.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
Alyssa Ramos is the multimedia producer for Morning Edition for WLRN. She produces regional stories for newscasts and manages digital content on WLRN.
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