Got a dollar bill? Read the small print next to George Washington’s head: “This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.” Your buck may be legal . . . but the law doesn’t force anyone to take it. The accept-or-don’t-accept-cash question is causing problems at businesses across the United States. For many, it feels un-American. And unfair.
Hembert Figueroa wanted a taco. But the money in his pocket was no good at Dos Toros Taqueria. The Manhattan restaurant is one of a growing number of places that simply don’t take cash.
Figueroa had to stand to the side, holding his taco, until another customer was willing to pay for his meal with a credit card in exchange for Figueroa’s cash.
“I had money and I couldn’t pay,” Figueroa says.
Walmart-owned Sam’s Club opened its first cashier-less store in Dallas last year—customers scan and pay for items with their smartphones. Kroger has similar technology in about 400 stores. Even services like CitiBike, the bicycle-sharing company, require a debit or credit card.
Business owners who go cashless say they’re just following the lead of their customers, who are abandoning cash payments. But the change could negatively impact lower-income customers.
Now some activists and policymakers are fighting against cash-free stores. They worry technology is moving too fast for the 8.4 million U.S. households without bank accounts. Further, they say the no-cash practice discriminates against people like Figueroa—people who either lack bank accounts or rely heavily on cash. Federal law doesn’t require stores to accept cash. That means lawmakers must work on the issue at the state and local levels.
Earlier this year, Philadelphia became the first city to ban cashless stores. New Jersey passed a statewide ban soon after. A similar ban is coming to New York City. Before this year, only one state required businesses to accept cash: Massachusetts, which passed a law nearly 40 years ago.
There are no overall estimates of how many stores in the United States have gone cashless. The phenomenon remains fairly rare, but it may be the norm in the near future. (See Goodbye, Checkout Lines.) Even farther into the future, God has a different plan. He will call to His people, “Come, everyone . . . he who has no money, come buy and eat!” (Isaiah 55:1)
Figueroa says he would return to Dos Toros with his debit card now that he knows about the cashless policy.
“It was a good taco,” he says.