King County Councilmember wants to require businesses to accept cash

Mar 28, 2023, 8:36 AM | Updated: 11:58 am

Cash business...

A new bill in King County would require businesses to take cash. (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Have your neighborhood shops, and cafés stopped accepting cash over the last few years?

Many businesses chose to no longer take those 10s and 20s during the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid spreading germs through the handling of money and the face-to-face interactions required when making change.

Now, however, one member of the King County Council wants to ban this business practice.

“Cashless business is a gentrification accelerator,” Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles said. “Many people depend on cash to survive.”

Kohl-Welles, who represents King County District 4 (which includes parts of North Seattle and downtown Seattle), has introduced legislation to require businesses in unincorporated King County to take cash.

“I’m very concerned that more and more cashless businesses are opening,” Kohl-Welles said.

‘High’ frequency in armed robberies at pot shops in Puget Sound region

The bill would also prevent businesses from tacking on an extra fee for cash payments. People whose cash payments are refused could bring a civil action against a business.

Businesses would be allowed to require credit or debit cards for single transactions that are larger than $250, as long as they make cash an option for the first $250 of that payment.

Kohl-Welles wrote the bill because research shows that certain groups — such as seniors, refugee and immigrant communities, people of color, low-income communities, and people with disabilities — tend to rely on cash over credit and debit cards. She said card-only payment practices hurt these communities.

“They’re having increasing challenges with just buying things — essential services, or essential goods, such as milk and bread and so forth, if they don’t have a credit card,” Kohl-Welles said.

She was caught off-guard by this when she recently tried to pay with cash on an outing to see a film.

“I was at a movie theater in Seattle and was very surprised to find out that I could not buy a box of popcorn or a Coke unless I had the exact change or paid by credit card,” Kohl-Wells explained.

More than 2% of Washington residents surveyed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 2021 said they are unbanked, meaning they do not have bank accounts or credit cards. About 17% are underbanked, meaning they may have a bank account, “but often rely on alternative financial services, such as money orders, check-cashing services, and payday loans,” as per King County.

There is no federal statute mandating that a private business must accept currency as payment for goods or services. Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether to accept cash unless there is a state law that says otherwise.

While businesses may choose to go cashless for sanitary or security reasons, research data shows it can be discriminatory against those unable to pay with debit and credit cards.

Of those who still use cash for most purchases, the largest shares are people of color and those with the lowest incomes, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

More from Nicole Jennings: King County seeing increasing ‘white powder’ fentanyl

“I want to make sure that those individuals who are unbanked or underbanked be able to participate in the economy and access the goods that they need,” Kohl-Welles said.

The lack of cash-payment options can have a very real effect on people’s well-being.

“A person I know tweeted about how she had been very sick and sent her teenage son to get some food for them,” Kohl-Welles said. “He came back empty-handed because the store did not accept cash, and he did not have a credit card.”

The measure is being discussed by the King County Council Local Services and Land Use Committee Tuesday, where you can watch the hearing live.

Follow Nicole Jennings on Twitter or email her here.

MyNorthwest News

Image:The New York Giants' Willie Mays poses for a photo during baseball spring training in 1972. M...

Associated Press

Willie Mays, Giants’ electrifying ‘Say Hey Kid,’ dies at 93

Willie Mays, whose singular combination of talent, drive and exuberance made him one of baseball’s greatest players, has died. He was 93.

2 hours ago

Seattle police tombstone...

Matt Markovich

Timing of former SPD chief coming out raises questions amidst legal, administrative turmoil

The former SPD chief's coming out has some unnamed sources within SPD and members questioning the timing of his announcement.

3 hours ago

Image: Drugs, guns and money were seized as part of a large investigation led by the DEA and the Se...

Steve Coogan and James Lynch

Long Washington probe yields 84,000 fentanyl pills, hundreds of pounds of drugs

Four Seattle-area men with ties to Central and South America were arrested in a long probe related to drugs, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

4 hours ago

Image: Water moves through a spillway of the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River near Almota on Ap...

Associated Press

US acknowledges Northwest dams have devastated the region’s Native tribes

The U.S. government acknowledged for the first time the harms the construction and operation of dams on two rivers have caused tribes.

5 hours ago

mount baker shooting...

Frank Sumrall

Teen arrested in deadly Mount Baker shooting

A 15-year-old boy has been arrested in the Mount Baker shooting that happened on Sunday, according to Seattle police.

5 hours ago

Steamboat Geyser is protected by a boardwalk and 3-foot fence. (Getty Images)...

Bill Kaczaraba

Lynnwood man creates costly photo opportunity in Yellowstone

A 21-year-old Lynwood man faces legal consequences for his actions near Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone National Park.

6 hours ago

King County Councilmember wants to require businesses to accept cash