File photo: TSA agent screening passengers at RSW. / Special to news-press.com
(News-Press.com) - The jingle of loose change abandoned at airport checkpoints might soon be sweet music to America's military personnel.
The House passed a bill Tuesday that would require the Transportation Security Administration to give to nonprofit groups such as the United Service Organization the approximately $500,000 in quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies collected every year at airport screening stations. The money would help finance airport programs that support service members as they travel.
Southwest Florida International reported collecting $2,900.
The USO operates lounges in nearly 40 major airports that offer food and other amenities exclusively to military personnel.
"What may seem like a small amount of change left behind ... actually amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars each year," said GOP Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, lead sponsor of the TSA Loose Change Act. The bill "would ensure that thousands of coins, when bundled together, will be used in support of millions of our nation's warriors."
Miller, who chairs the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, has introduced the bill for several years, but this is the first time it's made it to the House floor. In a rare show of bipartisan support, the bill passed by voice vote without dissent.
The measure now heads to the Senate.
TSA agents collected more than $531,000 in cash - almost all of it in coin form, and about 6 percent of it in foreign currency - that travelers left behind at airport checkpoints in fiscal 2012, according to the most recent data provided by the agency.
That's an increase over fiscal 2011 ($487,870) and 2010 ($409,086).
Miami International ($39,613), McCarran International in Las Vegas ($26,900), and O'Hare International in Chicago ($22,116) collected the most change in fiscal 2012, TSA figures show.
Travel experts say people abandon change for a number of reasons: They're in a rush, they can't be bothered to re-pocket a relatively small amount in coins, or they're heading to a country where the change can't be used.
TSA officials say they make every reasonable effort to return abandoned change to its rightful owners.
Under current rules, the TSA gets to keep the money left behind. The agency says it uses the cash "for the purpose of providing civil aviation security."
These 10 airports reported finding the most money left behind by travelers at airport checkpoints during fiscal 2012:
- Miami International - $39,613
- McCarran International (Las Vegas) - $26,900
- O'Hare International (Chicago) - $22,116
- Los Angeles International - $21,916
- John F. Kennedy International - $21,201
- Dallas/Fort Worth International - $20,190
- San Francisco International - $19,874
- Washington Dulles International - $16,537
- Logan International (Boston) - $16,406
- George Bush Intercontinental (Houston) - $16,082
Source: Transportation Security Administration