A bill that would force retailers throughout D.C. to abandon their no-cash policies is being considered by the D.C. Council as part of a renewed effort to ban Washington, D.C., businesses from denying cash payments.
The Cashless Retailers Prohibition Act of 2019 was introduced Feb. 5 and classifies a retailer as any person holding a business license who “sells products or services in a retail setting in small quantities directly to the ultimate consumer.”
Cashless policies discriminate against unbanked or underbanked consumers who are not served by banks or other financial institutions, according to the bill’s lead sponsor David Grosso (I-At Large). Forms of discrimination against cash payments include refusing payments in cash, posting signs that indicate cash is not an accepted form of payment or charging different prices to consumers using distinct payment methods, according to the bill.
In D.C., 10.8 percent of all households were unbanked and 25. 4 percent were underbanked, according to a 2015 Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation study. Black households were nearly 20 times more likely than white households to be unbanked, and three times more likely to be underbanked.
The practice disproportionately affects younger and low-income consumers, who are less likely to have credit cards or other means of payment besides cash, as well as customers who choose to use cash for accounting and safety purposes, according to Grosso.
“In addition to the disparate impact on low-income and young patrons, this practice affects other customers who may prefer to pay with cash to better manage their budget, or to avoid the very real risk of identity theft that comes along with credit card use,” Grosso said in a statement before the Council on Feb. 5.
The bill’s goal is to foster greater financial inclusion in the District and protect vulnerable consumers, according to Grosso.
“Through this bill we can ensure that all D.C. residents and visitors can continue to patronize the businesses they choose, while avoiding the potential embarrassment of being denied service simply because they lack a credit card,” Grosso said.
Practices like discrimination against cash payments serve to divide the city, which should instead work towards fostering greater inclusion, Grosso said in a Feb. 5 news release.
No-cash policies have become increasingly popular in the District, according to The Washington Post. Several prominent retailers throughout D.C., including Sweetgreen, Menchie’s and Bruery have adopted cashless models. Students of Georgetown, Inc., is also cashless.
The change has increased profits for some retailers. In 2016, Sweetgreen reported that its locations reported anywhere between 5 and 15 percent more transactions per hour when they turned cashless.
The Corp adopted a no-cash model in February 2018 to decrease costs and streamline operations, according to the organization’s Facebook page. Josh Sirois (SFS ’20), the chair of The Corp’s board of directors, was not available for comment at the time of press, but wrote in an email to The Hoya that he and the other board members were aware of the bill.
Councilmember Grosso introduced a similar bill in June 2018 which also attempted to prohibit food retailers from discriminating against cash payments. The latest iteration of the bill expands the prohibition to cover all cashless retailers, not just food establishments.
The 2018 bill did not pass certain legislative hurdles needed to be brought to a vote, according to Matthew Nocella, Councilmember Grosso’s communications director.
Before the council can vote on any bill, it must be referred to a committee of jurisdiction. A vote never occurred because the Committee of the Whole, a committee which consists of all councilmembers and is chaired by Chairman Phil Mendelson, never held a hearing on the 2018 bill, Nocella wrote.
The bill’s late introduction to the Council delayed the legislative process, according to The Washington Post.
Cash should be accepted as a form of currency in all campus stores to promote accessibility, incoming GUSA Vice President Aleida Olvera (COL ’20) wrote in an email to The Hoya.
“It is important that we acknowledge cash in all stores on campus. It discriminates against students from a lower-socioeconomic status who often do not have the luxury of a bank account,” Olvera wrote.
This article was updated Feb. 24 to correct Sirois’ school and title.
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