Stores and restaurants in several states would be required to do something pretty basic if certain lawmakers have their way: accept their customers' cash.
The legislation comes amid a worldwide move toward "cashless payments" using cards or mobile devices, which supporters say are safer, quicker and more convenient. But critics say an outright ban on cash discriminates against those without credit or bank accounts, and raises concerns about privacy and data security.
The New Jersey Legislature and the Philadelphia City Council have passed measures this year that would ban cashless stores. New York City, Washington and Chicago are weighing similar bills. "It's important to recognize the fact that not everyone has access to banks or lines of credit," said state Sen. Nellie Pou, a sponsor of the bill in New Jersey.
Pou said that she had many constituents who lack bank accounts, including low-income families deterred by fees and minimum balance requirements. (A report by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in 2017 estimated that 6.5 percent of U.S. households were "unbanked.") Older adults also may not have electronic payments set up, or be comfortable using them, she noted.
Proposed penalties range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. In the New Jersey bill, they could go up to $5,000 for a second offense. A spokesman said the governor was considering whether to sign the bill.
Pou said that business groups and Amazon had expressed opposition to the bill, and she worked with businesses to include exceptions, including for airports, parking facilities, car rental companies and any "internet-based transaction."
Retailers that have adopted cash-free policies argue that the majority of their customers already pay electronically and that not having to fumble with cash makes the lines go faster. Without cash on hand, employees are free from a number of related tasks, like counting it and transporting it to the bank. A lack of cash also cuts down the danger of robbery or theft.
"It's more efficient for our teams and restaurants because they'll get back hours of their day to cook and spend time with you in the restaurant instead of the administrative work associated with cash," salad chain Tender Greens said in an online statement when it implemented a cash-free policy last year.
Ritchie Torres, a councilman who introduced the New York City bill, said he had concerns about a cashless economy. "What if you have no papers? What if you have no credit history?" he asked, adding that others may prefer cash to protect their data and privacy. "The goal here is not to stifle technological progress. A cashless payment can be one option among many."
Stephanie Martz, senior vice president and general counsel of the National Retail Federation, argued that businesses should be able to decide themselves how to operate.