July 15, 2020
Cash: What is it Good For?
- In the wake of COVID-19, reasons for declining cash have evolved.
- While touching cash might pose some risk, it would seem more likely that the surfaces of credit/debit card machines would be far more dangerous.
- In this time of economic hardship, it is not in the best interests of businesses to make it more difficult for potential customers.
Apparently, some businesses do not accept cash. This did not start with coronavirus, but the virus may be contributing to the spread of such policies. Before the coronavirus outbreak, some of the key reasons an establishment might choose to decline cash payments included convenience, safety, and to prevent stealing. In the wake of COVID-19, reasons for declining cash have evolved. We know that the virus can live on surfaces, and that transmission from handling cash that has been contaminated with infectious droplets is possible. However, this mode of transmission is unlikely if proper hand-washing techniques are used, and if people avoid touching their faces when handling cash.
While touching cash might pose some risk, it would seem more likely that the surfaces of credit/debit card machines would be far more dangerous. The number of people who have touched a particular bill in a given period of time is certainly less than the number who have touched the pin pad or stylet of the credit card machine.
Federally, it is not illegal for businesses to choose not to except cash. Currently, this is something that falls under the jurisdiction of the state or local government. Massachusetts, does legally require cash to be accepted in retail venues, but the retail designation does not cover all businesses. Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey have also adopted laws making it illegal for businesses to refuse cash.
As business owners react to the ongoing pandemic by adjusting their policies to promote contactless deliveries and payments, those who want or need to pay cash may find themselves thwarted. While it is admirable for employers to adopt every possible protection for their employees, it must be understood that refusing to accept cash could result in genuine hardship for some customers.
There are several states and large cities in the process of enacting legislation that will require businesses to accept cash. In this time of economic hardship, it is not in the best interests of businesses to make it more difficult for potential customers. With self-checkout options available at most large retailers, it seems clear that a touchless option could be adapted for cash transactions, even in a full-service checkout. In the meantime, we must rely on proper handling and hygiene to protect those who handle financial transactions.
Starting back in March, the Federal Reserve began to quarantine cash returning to the United States from Asia. The cash quarantine lasts 7-10 days. Business owners who are truly worried about contracting COVID-19 from cash can do their own cash quarantines. Customers who are using cash, but concerned about transmission can put their change in a pocket and run it through the wash. After all, how many times have we each done that accidentally? But there is a limit to how much we can keep up, both physically and mentally, so prioritizing cash as a big threat, when it is fairly far down the list of how one is likely to contract the virus is probably not the best use of time and resources.