Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, is calling on Congress to allow the U.S. Mint to use cheaper metals in some coins.
Ernst has put forward a bill titled the Currency Evolution Now to Save (CENTS) Act, which would give the Treasury Department the authority to change the composition of the nickel, dime, quarter and half dollar coins if these changes save the taxpayer dollars and do not impact the coins' size or functionality.
The change has the potential to save more than $150 million over 10 years, according to Ernst.
“Iowa taxpayers are getting nickeled-and-dimed by the increasing costs of certain metals for producing coins," she said in a news release.
Right now, it costs taxpayers seven cents to make one nickel, according to Ernst.
"Congress can fix this, and they need to," she said.
Congress has established very specific guidelines regarding the size and composition of coins in circulation.
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In the 1980s, Congress provided flexibility for the Treasury to modify the composition of the penny, but this authority has not been extended to other coins.
Over the past decade, the U.S. Mint has conducted three different studies to identify less costly metal alloys that could be used in nickels, dimes and quarters.
They found that millions of dollars in cost savings could be achieved by changing the composition of coins in ways that would have no impact on their functionality, according to Ernst.
U.S. Mint officials say they can accomplish this by slightly modifying the levels of copper and nickel from 75 percent cooper and 25 percent nickel to 80 percent copper and 20 percent nickel.
The U.S. Mint estimates this would save around $4 million a year.
Another option officials say would save $16.6 million annually is using an alloy consisting of 50.75 percent copper, 14 percent nickel, 33 percent zinc and 2.1 percent manganese.
"While there is some risk associated with the composition, testing and adjustments continue in order to mitigate risk," states the U.S. Mint's Fiscal Year 2019 budget justification report.
A March 2019 watchdog report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended Congress "consider amending the law to provide the Secretary of the Treasury to change the composition of circulating coins if the new metal compositions reduce the cost of coin production and do not affect the size, weight, appearance or electromagnetic signature of the coins."