Community Issues

Cities and States Ban "Cashless" Businesses

Supporters like it. Opponents say it could discriminate against the poor.

What's in your wallet? If there's no cash in there, you're among the growing legion of people who only pay with plastic and avoid carrying paper money. Retailers have noticed, and a few have decided to make life easier and stop accepting cash at all.

While the practice isn't common, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says elected officials are worried about it, since people who don't or can't have bank accounts or credit cards could be discriminated against in cashless establishments.

Retailers that refuse to take cash could face fines.

In the last few weeks, New Jersey and the city of Philadelphia enacted legislation requiring most places to take cash. Massachusetts already has a law, and New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago and San Francisco are all considering the move. The P-G says Philadelphia is the first major U.S. city to pass a cashless ban. Mayor Jim Kenney cited the city's 26 percent poverty rate and the need to protect the "unbanked" -- those without bank accounts or debit and credit cards --who make up 6 percent of that city's households.

Bans on credit/debit-only establishments do have exceptions.

Supporters of cashless stores say paying electronically is safer, speeds up transactions and is what most customers prefer. The National Retail Federation calls idea misguided. "For the most part, these laws are a solution in search of a problem," spokesman J. Craig Shearman, told the P-G, adding that business owners "should have the right to choose which payments to accept and what works best for their business and their customers."

"These laws are a solution in search of a problem." J. Craig Shearman, National Retail Federation

In Pittsburgh, the mayor is aware of what's going on in Philly, but "Pittsburgh likely could not pass such a ban," said his spokesman Timothy McNulty in an e-mail to the P-G. That's because under state law Pittsburgh is a second class city, which doesn't give the city the kind of authority of businesses that first-class city Philadelphia has.

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