Washington D.C. Cashless Ban Takes Effect

Nov 29, 2023

A law requiring businesses to accept cash across Washington D.C. took effect on 1 October, aimed at ensuring equal access to goods and services for all.

DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson—a champion of the cashless ban—says almost a third of DC residents are either unbanked or underbanked, meaning they lack access to an account that would allow them to use card or other cashless payments. Many of these individuals are Black and on low incomes, meaning cash is an especially important tool for ensuring greater equity across the capital.

Local burger business Swizzler initially operated out of food trucks, which were cashless, but when it opened a bricks and mortar venue at Navy Yard in 2020, the owners wanted to ensure their food was accessible to all, and ‘ultimately decided it was important to accept cash.’ Banknotes and coins now account for nine percent of in-store sales.

By contrast, nationwide restaurant chain Sweetgreen initially opposed the legislation, having been at the forefront of a push by some larger businesses towards cashless back in 2016. Fortunately, long before the ban came into effect, it had walked back its cashless policy ‘amid backlash’, acknowledging that it had ‘had the unintended consequence of excluding those who prefer to pay or can only pay with cash.’

Fines for refusing cash begin at around $1,000 for a first offense, rising to more than $9,000 after a fourth offense, however Mayor Muriel Bowser intends to ‘ease into enforcement with warnings and education.’ Mendelson says he will see how this enforcement approach works in practice and will ‘revisit it if businesses do not comply.’

Last Updated: Nov 29, 2023