Putting the faces of U.S. presidents on dollar coins would entice collectors, but there still would be challenges in getting the coins into cash registers and people's pockets, the chief of the U.S. Mint said Wednesday.
The comments of Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore came during a House hearing that, among other things, explored a legislative proposal aimed at breathing new life in the little-used Sacagawea dollar coin, also called the Golden Dollar because of its golden color.
The proposal would replace Sacagawea, a Lemhi Shoshone Indian who helped Lewis and Clark find their way to the Pacific Ocean, now on the front of the coin, with a rotating design approach honoring presidents in the order they served the country. The face of the coin featuring a president would change four times a year. The back of the coin would feature the image of the Statute of Liberty.
"A design change will make the coin more attractive to collectors, but likely will have no appreciable effect on how many are used in retail transactions," Fore said during the hearing in the House Financial Services' subcommittee on domestic and international monetary policy, trade and technology.
"There are barriers against Golden Dollar circulation such as ... higher distribution and handling costs," Fore said. "A design change will not mitigate these barriers."
After testifying, Fore told The Associated Press that the Mint hasn't taken a position on the presidential coin bill and was working with lawmakers on various issues related to it.
The Sacagawea dollar has failed to catch on since it was unveiled in 2000. Coin experts say that for the dollar coin to become a staple of commerce, the dollar bill would need to be eliminated.
Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., an architect of the presidential dollar coin bill along with Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said he didn't intend to mount a campaign against the dollar bill. Coin experts say that the public likes the dollar bill and favors the paper dollar over the dollar coin in part because it is easier to carry around.
Jeffrey Marquardt, associate director of the division of reserve bank operations and payment systems at the Federal Reserve, the supplier of the nation's cash to banks, cited a 2002 General Accounting Office report that said the public generally prefers to carry dollar bills because they weigh less.
The Mint has more than 262 million Sacagawea coins in inventory and estimates that 300 million are in commercial circulation, Fore said. More than 600 million of the coins are held by Americans who keep them and don't spend them, she said.
The bill that would put the presidents on the dollar coin was approved Wednesday by the subcommittee on domestic and international monetary policy, trade and technology on a voice vote. That sends the proposal to the Financial Services Committee for consideration.