Coronavirus has altered almost every facet of society, causing product shortages all across the country. From toilet paper to dairy, it seems it has impaired production in every industry, but more recently we have even seen a shortage of coins. As businesses lean towards cashless forms of payment, millions of Americans and small businesses will be adversely impacted.
The onset of the virus brought the economy to a screeching halt and with it, the flow of hard cash. As millions of businesses were forced to close due to quarantine and even more people stayed at home instead of shopping, circulation of cash has significantly decreased. With less coins in circulation, businesses are unable to give exact change to customers paying in cash.
Along with less money being spent in general, the coin shortage can also be attributed to COVID-19 itself. To combat spreading the virus and limiting contact as much as possible, many businesses have begun to refuse cash payments entirely. As this further stagnates the circulation of coins, businesses are not receiving the coins needed for change due to the US Mint halting production at the beginning of the epidemic.
Cashless transactions also hurt small businesses which prefer cash transactions over card. Paying with cash helps small businesses not have to pay the fees associated with using card payments. While card and contactless payments wouldn't necessarily break small businesses, encouraging cash payments would alleviate the fees from large credit/debit card corporations.
Although it seems the world is moving towards more cashless payments, not all Americans have the same access to the bank accounts required for these transactions. Over 20% of adults in the United States are unbanked or underbanked and rely almost entirely on cash to make purchases and are typically low-income minorities.The increase in unemployment nationwide will only increase this number. As coin shortages force customers to pay in exact change or with an alternative payment, people without banking access are barred from grocery stores, gas stations, and other businesses forced to go cashless.
To fight for these Americans without access to bank accounts, New Jersey senator Bob Menendez proposed a bill that would not allow businesses to refuse any form of cash payment. Keeping the aforementioned percentage of Americans in mind, this bill would guarantee a cash option for those who don't have access to the alternatives.
So how urgent is this coin shortage? A complete turn to contactless payment would disproportionately affect thousands of unbanked Americans and small business owners who still rely on cash as the world moves away from it. As the country begins opening up, more coins would return to circulation, but there's no telling how many businesses would still refuse cash to reduce the spread of germs. It is difficult to know now just how far into the future COVID-19 related policies will continue to affect us. Giving up cash for general health and well-being would have tremendous effects on our communities, but that might just be the price we pay.
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