WASHINGTON — A quarter here, a penny there and soon all the loose change left in plastic bins at Transportation Security Administration airport checkpoints adds up to real money — about $531,000 in fiscal 2012.
The coins not claimed by passengers are supposed to pay for aviation security, though only about $6,500 had been spent as of March 1, according to a U.S. House committee report. Rather than sitting unused, lawmakers say they’d much rather it go for high-definition televisions and free snacks for veterans at airport lounges.
“Travelers’ lost change is unappropriated dollars that should be put to good use,” Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said at a House Homeland Security Committee meeting in October.
The TSA would be required to give future unclaimed cash to groups that run airport lounges dedicated to active-duty military personnel, veterans and their families under Miller’s bill, which is scheduled for a House vote this week.
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The United Service Organizations (USO), by running airport lounges, is the only organization that currently would qualify for the funds set aside in the legislation. The TSA estimates that passengers have left behind $2.2 million in change in the past five years.
Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, is also co-chairman of the USO Congressional Caucus.
The nonprofit group operates lounges in 45 U.S. airports, the largest at international facilities such as Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, Dallas/Fort Worth and Baltimore-Washington.
The TSA collects about $500,000 a year in coins that travelers empty from their pockets into bins and buckets, then forget to reclaim after walking through security screening.
The agency “makes every effort to reunite passengers with items left at the checkpoint,” TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein said in an email. “However, there are instances where loose change or other items are left behind and unclaimed.”
The TSA doesn’t comment on legislation, Feinstein said. The White House hasn’t formally supported or opposed the bill.
“Any pocket change we would get from this would go to helping out troops and their families,” USO spokeswoman Gena Fitzgerald said. “If this passes, we’ll be thrilled — not just us, but the troops that we serve will be thrilled.”