With all the talk of how broke the US government is, you might be surprised to learn there's over a billion one-dollar coins sitting unused in Federal Reserve vaults. And the US Mint is still cranking them out.

NPR's Planet Money and Investigations teams found that the coins are the wasteful byproducts of a failed congressional effort to get Americans to use them in everyday commerce.

In 2005, after the plan to put the 50 US states on a series of quarters was successful, Congress thought a new series of dollar coins bearing the likeness of every former president would engage the public. A new one is minted every three months; thus far, coins have been produced through the 18th president, Ulysses S. Grant.

The problem is that Americans still haven't taken to them, preferring good old-fashioned paper dollars. So between the presidential dollar coins and those featuring Sacagawea, there are now about 1.2 billion dollar-coin "assets" in Federal Reserve vaults, unloved and bearing no interest. By the time the presidential coin series finishes and produces coins honoring all past presidents, there could be 2 billion.

Leslie Paige, who represents watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, says the government should withdraw the dollar bill from the market and force Americans to use the coins. "I think Americans will definitely embrace the dollar coin if they're just given the opportunity."


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