Local officials are exploring the idea of offering no-interest loans to the 500 or so federal employees who have been working at the Mineta San Jose International Airport without pay amid the government shutdown.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo pitched the plan, which will come up for discussion at a special meeting set for this afternoon. This is the 26th day of the shutdown—the third shutdown under President Trump and the longest in the nation’s history.
“We are going to do everything in our power to keep political dysfunction in Washington from creating service disruptions or safety issues here in San Jose,” Liccardo said in a news release Tuesday night. “Mineta San Jose International Airport is vital to our local economy and we need our highly-skilled and trained federal workers there to keep it running smoothly. That’s why we are exploring tools, like these local bridge loans, to help keep these essential workers on the job.”
Vital employees include air traffic controllers, Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) employees and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.
In the three-plus weeks since Congress let funding lapse because of the president’s demands for $5.7 billion fund a southern border wall, federal employees have had to show up to work without compensation. Hundreds of thousands of them have had to find other ways to get by, such as borrowing money or hitting up food banks.
Basic government functions like maintaining national parks or enforcing food safety have been dramatically scaled back, if not halted altogether. In Miami, for example, the international airport had to close one of its terminals each day for a lack of staff.
Meanwhile, funding for safety net services like food stamps and subsidized rent is running out, leaving thousands of households hungry and prone to eviction.
At Mineta airport, about half of the TSA employees are San Jose residents. Since the shutdown, the daily absence rate shot up from 3 percent to 14 percent.
Some credit unions and banks are offering help for federal workers affected by the shutdown, but those loans have interest rates and are only available to existing members. Mayor Liccardo proposes offering a loan program with the following parameters:
- The program would provide an amount equal to monthly take-home pay
- Loans would be repaid without interest upon the employees’ receipt of back pay
- All safety related, mission-critical federal employees at the airport would be eligible to participate, including air traffic controllers, TSA passenger screeners, and customs officers
- The city would explore funding the program through airport revenues, and administering the program in partnership with one or more financial institutions.
“Cities increasingly find themselves in the too-familiar position of stepping up to solve problems where the federal leadership has abdicated responsibility,” the mayor stated in a memo outlining his plan. “In recent years, we have seen this pattern of leadership-shifting across a host of issues, from climate change to transit funding to affordable housing. So too, we must come to the aid of federal workers.”
Airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes called the idea “innovative and heartwarming.”
The meeting to discuss the proposal takes place at 2pm at City Hall.