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Lost Change Really Adds Up at the Airport Security Line

In our scrambles to disrobe and redress in the airport security line, we leave lots of pocket change in those plastic tubs—more than $500,000 in the last fiscal year, according to the Transportation Security Administration. Some in Congress want to see these abandoned funds funneled to members of the military.

Representative Jeff Miller, a Republican from the Florida Panhandle, is making a third legislative attempt to have money the TSA collects fund rest and relaxation facilities at airports for military service members. The $531,395 the TSA collected from airports during the last fiscal year was spent on airport security projects, such as translating signs into foreign languages.

The bill (pdf) would require those nonprofit organizations that help veterans to bid for the money—but groups are eligible only if they have a national presence. Currently, the 72-year-old United Service Organization (USO) is the only group that meets those requirements, with rest centers in 44 U.S. airports.

Earlier versions of the bill came with costs of roughly $1 million to implement, according to a March 2012 estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. “I was pretty aggravated that they said it was going to cost money to give money away,” Miller says. The latest version of the bill would have only a modest cost, because it does not affect any past funds the TSA collected, the CBO concluded earlier this month.

Here’s a rundown of the money travelers left at some U.S. airports last year:

Miami: $39,613
Las Vegas: $26,900
Chicago O’Hare: $22,115
Los Angeles International: $21,916
New York-JFK: $21,201
Dallas-Fort Worth: $21,090
San Francisco: $19,873
Boston: $16,405
Houston-Intercontinental: $16,000
Washington-Dulles: $16,000
Phoenix-Sky Harbor: $10,492
Atlantic City: $350.56
Guam: $1.70