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$34M approved to hire more TSA officers, pay OT, pol says

People wait at a security checkpoint at Kennedy

People wait at a security checkpoint at Kennedy Airport on March 24, 2016, in New York City. After the deadly terrorist attacks in Brussels, airports and train stations across the country added soldiers and police officers in an effort to deter potential terrorists. Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

The House Appropriations Committee has agreed to free up $34 million for the Transportation Security Administration to hire additional security officers and pay overtime to help alleviate long security wait lines that have plagued airports across the country.

A letter to the panel, penned in part by Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) and dated Tuesday, was the latest push to get more funding for the agency, which has been severely short-staffed as security checkpoint wait times have grown in recent months.

A spokeswoman for the Appropriations Committee confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the funding was approved. In their letter, Rice and other lawmakers cited the Port Authority’s letter last week demanding that the TSA do something to alleviate growing security lines at metropolitan-area airports. Average wait times from March 15 to April 15 this year were up 82 percent at Kennedy Airport, compared with the same period last year, the Port Authority’s May 4 letter said.

Rice, a ranking member of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation security, wrote the letter along with Reps. Donald Payne Jr. and Bill Keating, and said the Port Authority’s warning that it may be forced to contract with private security at its hub airports is a cause for concern.

“As members of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security, we have serious reservations about the prospect of a move toward privatized security at major American airports prompted by inadequate TSA staffing levels,” the letter continues. With a projected 220 million people expected to fly in July and August, the letter says, the situation could get worse.

Also this week, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) floated a proposal to 12 major airlines, urging them to stop charging bag fees during the summer.

“Without charges for checking their bags, passengers will be far less likely to carry them on, which snarls screening checkpoints and slows the inspection process,” the senators wrote in a letter to airline executives. “TSA has informed us that checkpoints serving carriers that charge baggage fees see 27 percent more roller bags than checkpoints serving carriers that do not charge such fees.”

Lobbying group Airlines for America said it has seen no data to suggest that charging to check a bag results in a 27 percent increase in the number of carry-ons, and that the loss of revenue from bag check fees would be made up elsewhere.

“This is a misguided attempt at reregulating an industry that has been deregulated — to the benefit of the consumer — since 1978, and would have the unintended consequence of making air travel more expensive,” Airlines For America said in a statement.

“We believe a better focus would be to urge TSA officials to ensure adequate staffing and equipment is being sent to the airports where they are most needed, and encouraging a more robust effort to register travelers for TSA PreCheck, which would reduce overall security wait time,” the group said in a statement.

A TSA spokeswoman said the agency doesn’t comment on pending legislation. Earlier this week, the TSA urged more people to sign up for PreCheck, which allows travelers to go through an expedited security line and keep on light jackets and shoes as well as retain their laptops and liquids inside their bags.

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