Hawaii residents, still a bit wary of the lurking coronavirus, are venturing out to previously closed shops, restaurants and other retail establishments, ready to resume their spending. More than ever, they will be greeted with the sign, “No cash accepted.”
Retailers are adopting cashless, “contactless” transactions as a way to protect against a coronavirus that could be contaminating dollar bills or coins. It seems safer, and reassures employees and shoppers that every step is being taken to protect their health.
It’s also more convenient and secure: faster transactions, less waiting time for customers and no bags of money to take to the bank. And technology has made it easier for small shops as well as big ones to install card readers at the register.
Unfortunately, refusing to accept cash puts some consumers at a disadvantage.
Poor people without access to traditional banking systems can’t get credit or debit cards, which usually require secure identification, background checks and sometimes an initial deposit to open a checking or savings account.
Others may simply prefer using cash, to avoid getting hacked or to keep their spending habits out of a store’s database.
And it just seems unjust. After all, it says right there on your dollar bill: “This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.”
There is no federal law that requires private business to accept currency or coin as payment. But that doesn’t mean states and cities can’t act on their own. In fact, at least 21 cities and states have adopted or are considering bans on cashless retail transactions, according to the National Law Review. This is a marked change: Prior to 2019, only Massachusetts, and no cities, had such prohibitions, the Law Review noted.
It’s true that bills and coins, like other surfaces, can harbor nasty things, including the coronavirus. But the virus doesn’t penetrate your skin; it spreads by coming into contact with places like your nose, mouth or eyes. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises washing your hands and avoiding touching your face.
Some stores try to accommodate all customers while masking up and wearing gloves. H Mart Kakaako encourages cashless transactions but still allows cash to be used, if the customer prefers. Whole Foods has separate registers for cash payments.
We can only hope that cash money doesn’t become an anachronism. Lots of people rely on those greenbacks.