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TSA agent, family struggle without paycheck during shutdown

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If you’ve ever been to an airport, you’ve probably seen a Transportation Security Administration or TSA agent. They are tasked with keeping airline passengers and employees safe.

Daniel Blake is a TSA agent in Wrangell and because of the government shutdown, he’s working full time…without pay.

Blake and his family are feeling the strain of ‘losing’ a paycheck.

Daniel and Beth Blake moved to Wrangell from Tennessee. Daniel is a military veteran and both he and Beth are former police officers.

Daniel works full-time as a TSA agent at the Wrangell airport. He’s the primary breadwinner for the family.

Earlier this week, Daniel, as a federal employee got an email. It said:

“Work as usual but don’t expect a paycheck. So there is no pay until the government shutdown is over,” explains Beth Blake.

Federal employees like TSA agents and air marshals are considered necessary for public safety, so they aren’t being furloughed. They are just…working without pay. Like Daniel.

Beth works too, but spends most of her time caring for her daughter, Kelsey, who has severe disabilities and many healthcare needs.

I’m sitting with Beth in the kitchen. Kelsey is in the living room, watching TV. Daniel isn’t able to talk to me because of the nature of his job, but Beth can.

She says their first reaction was shock which turned to anger and frustration.

“It’s very stressful. The fear of the unknown. How long is this going to go on? You know. The power company doesn’t accept IOUs,” says Blake.

For the Blakes, money is now a serious issue. She says they’ve already had to write to their landlords saying they can’t pay the rent on their apartment until the shutdown is over.

But, she says, one of the most surprising moments this week was when Daniel got a letter:

“Basically saying—here’s a copy of a letter that you can send to your creditors so that maybe they will have pity on you and give you a break if you don’t make your payments. Ya, when you have a child support payment to make, the ex-spouse doesn’t care about that. Nobody cares about IOUs—they want their money,” says Blake.

They’re not sure where the money will come from to pay child support for Daniel’s 17-year old son in Tennessee.

They’re also in the process of buying a house with a loan from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, or VA.

Initially, it was unclear what VA programs would be affected by the shutdown.

In a “field guide to the shutdown” on the VA website updated on October 1st, it states that home loan processing should not be impacted. However, in the event of an extended shutdown, processing may slow down.

But, Blake says, buying a house is a complicated process with many steps. She says they’re still worried that being late on their van, truck and credit card payments will hurt their credit and prevent them from getting the loan.

But perhaps even more than that, she says it’s the stress of not knowing when that next paycheck is coming that’s impacting their daily lives.

“But anytime you lose an income, it’s a major impact these days. Most people live paycheck to paycheck and you don’t really realize how important that is until suddenly it dawns on you—hey I want to have tacos for dinner tonight but I don’t have the stuff. Let’s run down to the grocery store and pick up those supplies. Nope. We’ll just eat what’s in the freezer. Fortunately we do have some fish and some meat put away, so we’ll be living on that for a while,” says Blake.

She says her family feels like they’ve been taken hostage to politics. And ultimately, she says, it’s not about party lines—it’s about the everyday joes that get stuck in the middle.

“I keep hearing on the news, well this party has suggested this and the other party won’t negotiate. I’m not blaming the Republicans and I’m not blaming the Democrats. I’m just saying that all parties need to come together and work this out for the little people. For those of us that are out here trying to make ends meet. And it’s a struggle,” says Blake.

It is expected that TSA agents and others working without pay will be paid retroactively for hours worked once the shutdown ends.

Information specialists at the FED INFO government shutdown hotline declined to answer questions from media and the media email contact provided for the TSA did not respond by deadline Friday.

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