Fresh from an eight-hour shift, the weary TSA agent’s eyes were red.
“I came straight here after work,” she said.
She declined to give her name, due to workplace rules at the Transportation Security Administration, but said she had worked at John F. Kennedy Airport from 4 a.m. to noon, and then made it to Brookdale Hospital in Brownsville—in time for a 3:00 p.m. food distribution.
As the longest shutdown in U.S. history ground on for 35 days, a number of New York City charities and food banks supported federal workers struggling through five weeks without a paycheck.
And some are still helping, as the shutdown’s aftereffects linger and federal workers continue to wait for their delayed paychecks.
On February 1, in fact, seven days after the end of the shutdown, Food Bank for New York City held an event in Yankee Stadium to distribute food and other supplies to federal workers. A similar event at Barclays Center on January 22 served more than 600 New Yorkers, according to the organization.
“The reopening doesn’t mean they’re able to recuperate,” said Dr. Melony Samuels, director of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Campaign Against Hunger. “The trickle down effect isn’t there yet.”
Three days after the end of the shutdown, Dr. Samuels’s group was ready to serve 100 people until 6 p.m. But many federal workers, who in past weeks had flocked to the organization’s office on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, were still at work until 5.
An email sent to TSA employees on January 28 instructed payroll administrators to process timecards by 3 p.m. that day, in order for employees to receive their delayed paychecks on Wednesday. Federal employees in Washington, D.C., were paid on Wednesday, but the deadline was a tall order for administrative staff at JFK Airport, where one terminal alone has more than 400 TSA agents.
“All of these people not considered essential just reported back to work,” said the TSA agent at the food pantry. “We’re definitely not getting paid on the 31st.”
President Trump reached a deal last week with Congressional Democrats to fund the government until February 15. But recovering from will not be easy for 800,000 federal employees who missed two pay periods.
“This is like we’re in a state of emergency,” said Councilwoman Alicka Ampry-Samuel, whose office co-sponsored the food pantry to help constituents in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Many TSA agents live in that neighborhood along the route of the B15 bus, which goes straight to JFK Airport. “I don’t know what’s going to make them whole again,” said Ampry-Samuel. “If you don’t pay your credit card bill, you get a ding on your credit report. Now it’s not your fault that the government didn’t pay you.”
“It’s so humiliating,” said a Justice Department employee, who requested anonymity due to the nature of his work. “For professional employees of the federal government to feel the need to seek out handouts, because of a contrived and avoidable crisis, is infuriating.”
On the other hand, “A lot of people have been there for us,” said the TSA agent at the Bedford-Stuyvesant food distribution. “ConEd slashed my bill in half, and they put me on a payment plan.”
And federal workers have also supported one another. As she reached the end of the table, the TSA agent surveyed her haul of pasta, canned tomato sauce, yellow squash, potatoes, split peas, milk, and oranges.
“We have potlucks at work daily since the furlough started,” she said. “I can make a big pan of spaghetti out of this.”