The Maryland Transit Administration is offering free bus, Light RailLink, Metro and MARC service to unpaid federal government workers until the end of the partial government shutdown.
Gov. Larry Hogan announced the move at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport during a visit Thursday to thank Transportation Security Administration agents and other federal employees at the airport who are working without pay.
“We’re going to waive all fees for these impacted federal employees for all MTA services,” Hogan said during a news conference after touring the airport’s security checkpoints. “Every single state transportation service is going to be free.”
Offering free transportation to more than 170,000 federal workers indefinitely could cost Maryland about $1.5 million per month, according to initial MTA estimates.
The state also is collecting food donations at 15 locations across the state in a program called #MDHelps, anticipating even greater need if the shutdown lasts beyond the end of February, when SNAP benefits — food stamps — will no longer be funded.
Roughly one in five Maryland households relies on food stamps.
“Next month could be a disaster if we don’t get that fixed,” Hogan said.
Several of the restaurants inside the airport terminals are offering discounted or free meals to federal workers at the airport, and Exelon-owned BGE and PEPCO are waiving late fees for those who haven’t been paid, Hogan said.
In addition to sending letters to the White House and congressional leaders with other governors across the country, Hogan said he would speak to President Donald Trump directly Saturday, if he gets a chance, to urge him to reopen the government.
Hogan blamed both the president and leaders of both parties in Congress for the shutdown, which he called “absurd and ridiculous.”
“It’s crazy,” the governor said. “It’s like, ‘If I don’t get my wall, I’m going to shut down the government.’ ‘If we don’t open the government you can’t speak in our chamber.’ It’s a bunch of 2-year-olds.”
“Let’s figure out border security and let’s get the people back to work, and let’s let the State of the Union take place like it always does,” he added. “It’s nonsense. They’re playing stupid political games, and we’re talking about people’s lives.”
As the number of TSA agents calling out from work across the country hit 10 percent over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, BWI closed Checkpoint A, the security gate near the Southwest Airlines ticketing counter because of a lack of agents.
The security checkpoint reopened Monday and has remained open since, according to airport officials.
While TSA agents are the most visible, they are not the only federal employees at the airport. Customs & Border Protection, the U.S. air marshals, air traffic controllers and FBI agents also are working without pay during the longest federal government shutdown in history.
On Thursday, leaders of the unions for air traffic controllers, airline pilots and flight attendants issued a warning that the shutdown was threatening the safety and security of commercial flights in the United States.
Hogan pointed out the irony of leaving Coast Guard and TSA workers unpaid in a political fight over whether to build a wall on the border with Mexico.
“The whole issue is about border security, and yet, we’re going to leave our airports and our coasts with no security,” he said. “Makes no sense.”
Scott Proudfoot, operations manager for the Federal Aviation Administration’s air-traffic control tower at BWI, met Hogan during the governor’s tour of the airport Thursday.
He told Hogan he feels a duty to come to work, and he’s doing what he can to improve morale among the unpaid air-traffic controllers he manages.
“I enjoy coming to work,” Proudfoot said. “I feel a sense of pride in my job, and I want to be here to support my other controllers. … I want to be here to make sure they have what they need.”