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Atlanta fears shutdown impact on Super Bowl travelers

About 120,000 partiers are expected to depart on “Mass Exodus Monday”

Stranded passengers relax near baggage claim at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Dec. 18, 2017, as hundreds of flights were canceled after a power outage at the airport. (Jessica McGowan/Getty Images file photo)
Stranded passengers relax near baggage claim at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Dec. 18, 2017, as hundreds of flights were canceled after a power outage at the airport. (Jessica McGowan/Getty Images file photo)

Worried about “Mass Exodus Monday” when an estimated 120,000 Super Bowl partiers will leave Atlanta en masse, the city is taking matters into its own hands to help keep unpaid airport screeners on the job.

An Atlanta credit union will be offering zero interest loans to Transportation Security Administration employees to try to prevent them from calling in sick after the game, said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat.

“Obviously, we’re concerned for all of our federal workers, but we do have a Super Bowl coming to Atlanta,” Bottoms said of the Feb. 3 title game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots. “We are extremely concerned because of what’s called Mass Exodus Monday.”

The partial government shutdown is now in its 34th day, the longest of its kind. The impasse shows no sign of abating in time for the big game, with both parties still stuck this week voting on spending measures they acknowledge won’t be signed into law, though there’s still hope for a resolution over the next week and a half.

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The TSA has already brought in additional agents to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the nation’s busiest. But TSA will open its security lines at 3 a.m. the Monday after the Super Bowl as the airport’s typical 70,000 to 80,000 number of Monday passengers balloons by 50 percent or more.

TSA workers are among the federal employees who are not furloughed, but still, they haven’t been paid during the shutdown, which began Dec. 22. Growing numbers of TSA agents have been missing work due to illness or other reasons, causing delays in security screening at airports around the country.

Details are still being worked out, Bottoms said, but the loan program will be similar to programs implemented by other credit unions during the shutdown, including low-interest or no-interest loans, lines of credit, and deferred payments on existing loans. The loans would be secured by the back pay employees would receive once the shutdown is over.

It was against Federal Aviation Administration rules for the city or an eager Atlanta corporate community to lend directly to the TSA workers, so the city instead turned to its Atlanta City Employees Credit Union, Bottoms said.

‘Belly of the beast’

Atlanta’s scurrying to diminish the worst of the partial government shutdown’s impacts was among several stories mayors were telling as the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ winter meeting began Wednesday in the nation’s capital.

Washington will offer a $9 million temporary loan program to help people make their mortgage payments, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser told reporters at the conference. The program, which launched Wednesday, is aimed at 70,000 local federal workers affected by the partial government shutdown.

“We, perhaps more than anybody, are kind of in the belly of the beast of this shutdown,” Bowser said, adding that it is up to cities to “step in the place of the federal government.”

“We know that some of those 70,000 people have missed one check and will miss another one this week,” the Democratic mayor said. Federal workers’ next bimonthly pay date is Friday.

“Everyone’s going to have to get pretty creative” to meet local impacts from the shutdown, said Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin, a Democrat who is also president of the mayors’ association.

For instance, Columbia owns its own water system, Benjamin noted. “We’re developing a program allowing for deferred payments on water bills for those who are effected by the shutdown,” he said.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, a Democrat, said that outside the loss of paychecks for about 5,000 city residents who work for the federal government, the biggest concern is grant money that is being held up. In particular, the city’s purchase of 14 buses for its public transit systems has been delayed.

“But I’m telling you the biggest deal is just the lack of the paychecks that our residents are not receiving,” she said. “We have property taxes due the 31st of this month, so we’ve had to relax that.”

Delays on grant programs from law enforcement to transit, along with funding for public housing are particular concerns for mayors, said Paul Soglin, the Democratic mayor of Madison, Wisconsin. “If these grant delays continue much longer we will see ramifications in 2020 and 2021,” he said.

“But our biggest concern right now is in the areas of health and housing,” Soglin said. “And that’s where we will be forced to step in.”

The city has $30 million in emergency funds that it will access, particularly if the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is most likely funded through the end of February, is interrupted.

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