Americans have found comfort in cash during the outbreak of the coronavirus, leading to an increase in cash demand and to the US mint upping their coin production. At the same time, restaurants and retailers have increasingly refused to accept cash payments which called legislators and consumer protection groups on the scene
After San Francisco, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Massachusetts, the council of New York City voted on 10th September to prohibit businesses from only accepting cashless payments. All restaurants and retailers must be prepared to accept cash by November 9th.
While the threat of a cashless society was already looming over the United States, the coronavirus has been used by many non-cash payment providers to create the myth that cash is not safe to use. This gave some merchants the excuse to deny cash, a detrimental move which has spurred non-profit advocacy groups to call for nationwide action to protect vulnerable individuals:
”We’re concerned that people aren’t going to be able to pay for necessities.”
The concerns raised by Sherry refer to the impact of the rise of merchants refusing cash on the unbanked or underbanked in the United States, who account for “about one-forth of American adults”, according to the Federal Reserve. Those who cannot pay with cashless means will be unable to purchase essential items if their local merchants refuse to accept cash.
"The federation and dozens of other advocacy and privacy rights groups are backing federal legislation that would prohibit brick-and-mortar retailers from refusing to accept cash."
However, protecting vulnerable individuals is not the only argument from pro-cash advocates. The fight for cash defends the public’s rights to privacy and freedom of payment choice. According to the Federal Reserve, “consumers still use cash for more than one-quarter of all payments.” In fact, “70% of participants said they were not avoiding cash because of concern for the virus.”
Ritchie Torres, the city councilman for New York, underlined the necessity of payment choice in a press conference ahead of the landmark vote:
"Whatever your reasons, consumers should have the power to choose their preferred method of payment.”
While this legislation by the New York City council will protect many of the city’s inhabitants, there is much more to be done to protect the freedom of choice in payment throughout America. Though advocates can take reassurance from Shell Santana, a visiting scholar at Harvard Business School, who explained that businesses that stopped accepting cash have reversed their policies voluntarily, suggesting they realised they were excluding customer as “no one wants to turn away business.” Read more