TSA nets big dollars from small change

Hate hidden travel fees? Then pay attention when collecting your belongings at the airport security checkpoint.

In fiscal year 2010, travelers left $376,480.39 in loose change in the bottoms of plastic bins at the checkpoints, according to the Transportation Security Administration. In 2009, the abandoned coins totaled more than $399,000.

“Passengers say their six pennies don’t matter,” said TSA spokesperson Nico Melendez. “But it adds up.”

Melenendez said all the unclaimed pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters are turned over to the TSA finance office. After being documented and counted, the money ends up in the coffers of the TSA, which is authorized by law to spend that money as it sees fit.

But Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) wants to change what happens to that big chunk of change.

Miller has introduced legislation that would direct the TSA to transfer unclaimed money recovered at airport security checkpoints to the United Service Organizations (USO), a private nonprofit that operates centers for the military at 41 U.S. airports.

Miller first introduced the bill in 2009, but it didn’t get much traction. Now that he’s the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, he’s trying to move the bill forward again.

“The money left behind at the airport checkpoints belongs to taxpayers,” said Miller spokesperson Dan McFaul. “The congressman feels giving it to the USO to help with onsite airport service for active members of the military would be a good use for it.”

McFaul said the bill is currently being considered by two committees – Homeland Security and Transportation – and that “the immediate focus is to get a hearing and get support.”

The USO, which did not initiate the campaign to redirect unclaimed checkpoint change, is nonetheless honored by Miller’s idea.

“Absolutely,” said Frank Thorp, USO’s senior vice president for marketing and communications. “Any dollar amount we get from the American people goes toward the troops and families who need us most. Our centers provide a warm and comforting place where troops can connect with family via Internet or telephone, play a video game, catch a movie, have a snack or just put their feet up and relax.”

As a federal agency, the TSA has no official position on the pending legislation, but Melendez says: “If people don’t want the TSA to get that money, they can do what I do. If I have spare change in my pocket, I put it in my briefcase so I don’t leave it behind.”


This story originally appeared on msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin.


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