Who Gets Hurt When the World Stops Using Cash

Some people don’t have credit or debit cards, so a growing number of state and local governments are requiring businesses to accept cash.

By Ann Carrns

Cash doesn’t have the status it used to.

In fact, some state and local governments are forcing businesses like restaurants and retail shops to continue accepting cash — concerned that cashless businesses effectively discriminate against consumers who do not have bank accounts or credit cards.

New York City will require most stores and restaurants to accept cash as of Nov. 19, joining cities including San Francisco; Berkeley, Calif.; and Philadelphia, all of which mandated acceptance of cash last year. New Jersey required acceptance of cash statewide in 2019, and it has been illegal for businesses to refuse cash in Massachusetts for decades. Many other cities and states are considering similar steps.

Concerns about a decline in the acceptance of cash surfaced well before the coronavirus arrived, as consumers grew more comfortable shopping online with credit or debit cards and paying quickly with mobile apps. Many businesses like electronic payments because they speed up purchases and reduce concern about theft.

Then, during the pandemic, restaurants and stores emphasized online ordering and digital payment to reduce interactions, and the risk of infection, among customers and employees. And as consumers stayed home, coin shortages occurred, making it difficult for some stores to give change. That added to a preference for electronic payments.

“The concern has been heightened as a result of the pandemic,” said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at the Consumer Federation of America, a nonprofit advocacy group.

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