January 21, 2019 / 4:02 PM / a month ago

U.S. air safety agents absences hit record level; shutdown in Day 31

FILE PHOTO: Long lines are seen at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport amid the partial federal government shutdown, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Security Administration, where employees are going unpaid amid a partial government shutdown, said on Monday that unscheduled absences among U.S. airport security officers rose to a record 10 percent on Sunday as the shutdown reached its 31st day.

The agency said the rate was up from the previous high of 7 percent on Saturday. It also was more than three times the 3.1 percent absence rate on the same day last year, when the government also was partially closed due to legislative funding issues.

As the partial government shutdown continues, air safety has become a top concern as the number of TSA agents not showing up for work grows.

The agency said many employees, who are not being paid because of the shutdown, are not reporting to work because of financial hardships.

More than 50,000 TSA officers are among some 800,000 federal workers have been ordered to stay home or work without pay during the shutdown.

Nearly all 1.78 million passengers screened Sunday faced normal security waits of 30 minutes or less, despite the absences, TSA said.

Some airports experienced longer wait times at security checkpoints, and on Sunday, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport closed one of its checkpoints because of excessive absences.

About one-quarter of the U.S. government has been shuttered since Dec. 22 over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to fund a wall along the border with Mexico, which Democrats have refused to consider.

The promise of a border wall was a mainstay of Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign. As a candidate, he said Mexico would pay for the barrier, but the Mexican government has refused.

Reporting by David Shepardson and Katanga Johnson; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Chris Sanders and Bill Trott

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