King County Councilmember wants to require businesses to accept cash

Jan 6, 2023, 4:06 PM
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.

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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.

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“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 will first come before the King County Council Local Services Committee next week.

Follow Nicole Jennings on Twitter or email her here.

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King County Councilmember wants to require businesses to accept cash