King County passes requirement for businesses to accept cash on slim vote

Jun 27, 2023, 6:00 PM | Updated: 6:23 pm

The King County Council approved legislation to require retail businesses within the county to accept cash on a 5-4 vote.

Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who introduced the bill to the council, stated the measure is meant to ensure everyone has access to the economy, including people who cannot or choose not to access bank accounts, credit cards, and other financial tools.

King County council member: ‘The future is cashless’

“This legislation has been an important and sometimes challenging balancing act – trying to protect consumer access, support local businesses, and adapt to a changing world all at the same time,” Kohl-Welles said. “I am very pleased that the legislation as passed addresses this emerging equity issue in a way that is creative, proactive, and collaborative. Further, it signals that as technology continues to rapidly change as we appear to be moving to a cashless society, there is a place for everybody in our local economy.”

Kohl-Welles represents King County District 4, which includes parts of North Seattle and downtown Seattle.

“I’m very concerned that more and more cashless businesses are opening,” Kohl-Welles said. “Cashless business is a gentrification accelerator. Many people depend on cash to survive.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses in the Puget Sound region began shifting to cashless operations, leaving people who rely on cash with fewer options to purchase food and other essential consumer goods.

Of those who still use cash for most purchases, the largest shares are BIPOC and those with the lowest incomes, according to data from the Pew Research Center. At least 2.1% of Washington residents are unbanked, according to the 2021 FDIC Household Survey — meaning they don’t have bank accounts, credit cards, or other typical financial services.

The percentage of residents underbanked — meaning they might have a bank account, but often rely on alternative financial services including money orders, check-cashing services, and payday loans — jumps to 17% within King County.

There are also differences by race and ethnicity in cash usage. Roughly a quarter of Black adults (26%) and 21% of Hispanic adults said that all or almost all of their purchases in a typical week are paid for using cash, compared with 12% of white adults who said the same.

King County council member wants to require businesses to accept cash

The study concluded that three in 10 Americans whose household income falls below $30,000 a year claim they use cash for all or almost all of their purchases in a typical week. That share drops to 20% among those in households earning $30,000 to $49,999 and 6% among those living in households earning $50,000 or more a year.

The survey showed that in less than a decade, the share of Americans who go “cashless” in a typical week has increased by double digits. Today, roughly four out of 10 Americans (41%) said none of their purchases in a typical week are paid for using cash, up from 29% in 2018 and 24% in 2015.

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King County passes requirement for businesses to accept cash on slim vote