Lawmakers Across the Country Propose Outlawing Cashless Businesses

They say it discriminates against those without checking or savings accounts.


Richard B. Levine/Newscom

Pass by Sweetgreen—the popular fast casual salad chain—and you'll see a sign that says NO CASHEW, with the latter two letters conspicuously crossed out. It's a cheeky homage to their no cash policy, a relatively new trend drawing ire from lawmakers across the country.

New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and San Francisco are all mulling legislation that would outlaw the practice on grounds that it unfairly discriminates against the poor and unbanked. Philadelphia successfully passed such a bill last week, although Mayor Jim Kenney has yet to sign it. If he does, violators will face a fine of up to $2,000.

"You don't have a credit card, well you can go to 7-Eleven," said Councilman Bill Greenlee, who supported the legislation. "With all due respect to 7-Eleven, that salad might have been sitting there for two days in a carton but that's OK for you because they'll accept cash, but we don't. If it's not discrimination, its elitism and government has a place to get involved in it."

Greenlee cites Philadelphia's poverty rate—which is the highest in the country—as proof that businesses shouldn't implement policies that potentially exclude the impoverished. But in the same breath, he acknowledges that the menu choices at Sweetgreen are hardly affordable. "If they choose to pay for a high-priced salad [with cash]," he says, "they should be able to buy it."

Cashless businesses across the country say the reasons for eliminating greenbacks are multifold. According to Sweetgreen, the company can process as many as 15 percent more sales per hour, and burglaries have all but stopped. Bo Blair, a Washington, D.C. restauranteur, told The Washington Post that going cash-free allowed him to cut down on a slew of operating costs that don't often come to mind, like the armored vehicles required to transfer cash to the bank, or the extra hour he had to pay employees to close up shop at the end of the day.

The D.C. City Council is considering a bill—introduced last summer by Councilman David Grosso—that would outlaw cashless businesses, although they have yet to vote on it.

Proposed legislation in New York, spearheaded by Councilman Ritchie Torres, also aims to ban the practice, as Torres says he worries "deeply" about a cashless economy's impact on the unbanked.

Torres reportedly joined a protest last week at an Amazon bookstore, as the shopping behemoth's brick-and-mortar spots are cash-free. "The purpose of the bill is to educate people about the racism of a cashless business model," Torres told The Brooklyn Eagle. "It's deceptively benign. But what we have happening is the delegitimization of cash, and I worry about the ramifications of that."

Stephanie Martz of the National Retail Federation argues that such assertions blow the problem out of proportion. Only a "handful" of businesses are cashless, she says. And even as the trend picks up steam, there will certainly always be a market for those who wish to pay with cash, as businesses stand to gain from swiping cash-loving customers.

Meanwhile, the bills that Torres and others have proposed will inevitably eliminate opportunities—not create them. Amazon recently warned Philadelphia lawmakers that they will reconsider plans to build a retail location there if the cashless proposal becomes law, which would scrap new job opportunities for low wage workers.

A 2015 survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation found that approximately 7 percent of households nationwide are without a checking or a savings account. That's certainly worrisome. But some are taking a more direct approach to the problem, like Bank on DC—a partnership between financial groups, nonprofits, and the city government—which has opened more than 11,000 bank accounts since 2010. Lawmakers, take note: Helping the unbanked does not have to be synonymous with punishing retailers.

NEXT: Politicians in Oregon and California Want To Give 16- and 17-Year-Olds the Right To Vote

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  1. It’s nice to know that politicians still do not know about the vary laws they pass, The one for example that says you may not refrain from taking legitimate U.S government back currencies for payments of goods.

    1. “It’s nice to know that politicians still do not know about the vary laws they pass, The one for example that says you may not refrain from taking legitimate U.S government back currencies for payments of goods.”

      Whoops my bad should have check my facts first.

      1. It makes sense too. They can’t enforce a debt against you and refuse payment in cash, but they don’t have to accept for debt not yet owed. They don’t need to complete the transaction.

        1. That does make sense.

          Also why i pay overdue bills in loose change

      2. Regardless, those Federal Reserve Notes state directly on them that they count as ‘legal tender for all debts, both public and private’…..I’m usually damn near an anarchist, but I can’t help but enjoy the idea of this particular article of legislation becoming codified law. I find it not only annoying, but also almost surreal or strange that any business would refuse any kind of payment; but it seems to be yet another moronic quirk about modern society, like holy fuck, just take my God damn money!!!

        I’m sure all of you have uttered such a statement at least once in the past decade.

        1. You’re more of a garden-variety dick than an anarchist.

        2. I’m pretty sure hotels have required a credit card for reservations for years and no one has complained.
          Anyone can go to a grocery store and buy a prepaid credit card.
          And what are the odds of “unbanked” (who the fork comes up with these terms) actually wanting to buy an $11 salad with microgreens and fava?
          Thanks for solving a problem no one has…

          1. solving a problem no one has…
            The tinfoil in my hat likes cash because it’s harder to track my purchases.
            Not like the government cares about the 2-ply I just bought on sale, but still…

        3. But fiat money is ok for anarchists?

          How about gold, chickens, bitcoin, or ammunition.

          Look all I want is a six pack of beer and some food.

          Help me out here.

          1. Not ideally, fiat money is about as sound as if I were to print my own money by slapping ‘dollar signs’ on each square of the single-ply, sand paper I prefer to wipe my ass with….in crayon, no less. Regardless, I didn’t say I truly wanted this piece of legislation, or any for that matter, to be yet another burden somewhere down the line; cash is easier to keep track of, in my mind…..

            I’m going to say with absolute certainty, then, that if you have never bitched aloud about a business not taking cash then the opposite must be true. I sincerely you’ve never heard the phrase: ‘Oooh, I’m sorry sir, we don’t take Diner’s Club here….’ or some such shit….

  2. I propose to outlaw lawmakers !!!

  3. the poor and unbanked

    Nice band name.

    1. Wasn’t that a Dostoevsky novel?

      1. ‘Nice Band Name’ was the working title of his third novel.

  4. burglaries have all but stopped.

    “Well, if you don’t consider hacking ‘burglary’.”

    1. If everyone would just learn to code, we wouldn’t have to deal with burglars and all these poor, cashless people.

      1. I fear that if most journalists ended up doing C coding than hacking would become rather more commonplace.

        1. Maybe a few crap text based feminist “apps”. Your checking account is safe.

  5. I thought the government wanted to get rid of cash so it could track everyone’s spending.

    1. The alphabet soup of “security” agencies would definitely take advantage of the surveillance opportunities offered by a cashless society. But politicians want to be re-elected, so they need “issues” to champion. Going cashless also makes accepting kickbacks and bribes problematic.

      The ability to track everyone’s spending is why I oppose going cashless. I value privacy more than convenience.

    2. Yeah, isn’t it hilarious how people were complaining that government will outlaw cash payments so they can track everything. Yet, here we are, with private businesses doing it all on their own and the government trying to get in their way.

    3. They tried that in China, and it royally fucked up their economy, so they went ahead and took that idea out back of the wood shed with Pa’s old break-barrel 12 gauge……where it belongs….lol!

  6. If you’re so poor you can’t open a bank account, what the fuck are you doing eating an $11 salad?

    1. Paying for it with student loans.

      1. And possibly your SNAP card.

      2. You only get paid through direct deposit so you need an account to get student loans and grants.

    2. Being a convenient victim for politicians to play hero for.

  7. Does this mean government agencies would also have to accept cash? I’m tired of getting money orders…

    1. Much less hassle to deliver a wheelbarrow full of pennies.

    2. They’re really the only ones that *should be required* to accept it. Its insane that they can refuse it. How soon before the IRS demands your taxes to be paid in gold?

      1. They, in fact, ARE required to accept it.

    3. It’s only racist when the corner store does it.

  8. “If it’s not discrimination, its elitism and government has a place to get involved in it.”

    Sounds like someone’s country club application was rejected.

  9. Whatever happened to legal tender?

    “This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private”, is printed on every US currency bill. Do those words have meaning any more?

    1. Legal Tender Status

      This statute means that all United States money as identified above are a valid and legal offer of payment for debts when tendered to a creditor. There is, however, no Federal statute mandating that a private business, a person or an organization must accept currency or coins as for payment for goods and/or services. Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether or not to accept cash unless there is a State law which says otherwise. For example, a bus line may prohibit payment of fares in pennies or dollar bills. In addition, movie theaters, convenience stores and gas stations may refuse to accept large denomination currency (usually notes above $20) as a matter of policy.

      1. Thanks for the information.

      2. What really grinds my gears is when business have those “no bills over $20” policy and sell $11 salads. When I bring in my family of four, I’m gonna use a $100.

        1. There was a time when they would make exceptions when you were actually spending an amount of money where using a 50 or 100 would be appropriate, because the reason for the policy is so they aren’t emptying out their cash drawer making change if you pay for a 5 dollar item with 100 dollar bill. So if you total was 80 or 90 something, they’d be fine taking a 100

          But nowadays most cashiers don’t really think about why they don’t take 100s, and just don;t accept them ever

        2. That’s probably ok, because you’re not getting $97 in change

    2. In a free country no one should be *forced* to accept it.

      But in a free country we’d have more than one currency to start with.

      1. And buying from a business does not involve debts, public or private.

        1. Unless you buy on credit.

      2. ^so much this

  10. While I don’t like the idea of so many businesses going ‘cashless’ – the government’s rationale for this is disturbing.

    Instead of championing another bulwark against government tyranny (which might be worth a little inconvenience to maintaint) they’re using bullshit ‘elitism’ justifications. In effect working to *enlarge* the power of the government again with another set of protected classes.

    And, frankly, this is a problem the market is perfectly capable of solving. You don’t need a bank account – you just need a business that transfers your cash onto a pre-paid debit card for you. If the government got out of the way, these businesses would pop up wherever cashless impeded a significant percentage of the local shoppers.

    1. You mean every grocery store and 7-11 type convenience?

    2. “…you just need a business that transfers your cash onto a pre-paid debit card for you. If the government got out of the way, these businesses would pop up wherever cashless impeded a significant percentage of the local shoppers.”

      And if it’s like other services to the bankless, such as check cashing, they’ll charge a hefty service fee.

  11. A 2015 survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation found that approximately 7 percent of households nationwide are without a checking or a savings account. That’s certainly worrisome.

    Only insofar as I hear more and more people advocate for banning cash.

    1. Banning cash would help fight the war on drugs.

      1. “Banning cash would help fight the war on drugs.”

        Some 30 years ago, a pretty near capsize-to-port lawyer in SF wrote an Op Ed to the Chron proposing limiting cash to a max of $20 bills for exactly this purpose.

        1. The Fed should issue high denomination notes again ($500-$10,000). Clean up on the seigniorage and shore up the dollar as the global reserve currency .

          1. You are not the first to make this suggestion:

            “In my opinion it is a mistake for the government not to issue the larger denominations ($500, $1,000, $5,000, $10,000) that are authorized by law.” – Milton Friedman.

            Although I believe his reasons were slightly different from yours.

            1. But would the histrionic debate about *whom* should be depicted on the bill be worth it?

              1. Totally worth it.

                Even if putting Harriet Tubman or Fredrick Douglass on the $500 or $1000 brings howls about secret racist dog-whistles by evil white-supremacists. “Because that’s how much they cost, in the pre-Civil War market.”

            2. Especially since the 100 is now worth what the 20 used to be when they discontinued large bills.

      2. There was a story a few years ago about people paying for drugs with jugs of Tide detergent. Mostly stolen, but it was legit barter. Where there’s a pill, there’s a way.

        1. I’ve heard that Diet Pepsi serves as cash in Appalachia in between SS disability checks.

    2. If banks paid more than 0.0001% interest, that statistic might change.

  12. At least they’re not trying to outlaw “cash only” or “discount for cash” businesses.

  13. Weirdly enough, I feel like the best argument for a law against cash-only businesses is that if more businesses went Sweetgreen’s way, and cash were to become stigmatized, it would make it more likely that government would take that cue to intervene on the other side and outlaw cash.

    But I really don’t think a move like this on the part of businesses is likely to “stigmatize” anything. There are already many people (myself included) who hardly pay for anything in cash, but there are still a lot of people that prefer it. Whatever benefits such a policy has for businesses, eliminating customer options would seem to be an inherent, offsetting negative that would keep such a policy from becoming universal. The efforts of those stigmatizing this might be better spent simply stigmatizing the businesses as elitist.

    1. Misedited — I meant the efforts of those lobbying for this might be better spent…

    2. People lining up to buy a dollar’s worth of lettuce for 11 bucks deserve to have to use credit cards.

  14. Woohoo! It’s libertarian to let big business (and ultimately the government) control money, deciding who can be part of the economy! I mean, it’s not like they would ever un-person someone or anything.

    Beyond that, I don’t see how this jibes with Reasons open borders policy. How many illegals have bank accounts?

    1. undocumented AND unbanked.

    2. They just have to go to Banco Popular and bingo- banked!

  15. I dont care if they chose to open a business that doesn’t take cash.

    …I wont shop there, but it should be their choice, not governments.

  16. All politicians are pieces of shit. It is known.

  17. New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia. You have to be a moron to be elected into office in any of those cities. The residents basically ask to be ass raped by retarded apes.

  18. In related news, some exits on NJ highways require an E-Z Pass, because the toll booths don’t accept cash.

    1. A cashless society is coming. Not because of some grand conspiracy by the government or anyone else, but because being cashless is cheaper, more secure, and more convenient for everyone. Just as you are still welcome to travel by horse and buggy, you will be welcome to keep using cash, but everyone will view you as a dinosaur.

      1. everyone will view you as a dinosaur.

        HATE CRIME!

      2. If cashless is inherently superior, then why do “discounts for cash” sometimes pop up?

        In some special cases cashless is better; in others, cash is superior. But most of the time, cash vs cashless is a wash. And the credit card companies have incentives to keep it that way. Almost as if some arcane economic force, some “invisible hand,” were working to maintain the balance.

        1. Businesses pay a percentage of each transaction to card processing companies. I think the idea is that if they didn’t deal with cash at all, then the savings for not needing to go to the bank, count cash, keep a safe, etc. would make up for it. But as long as you have any cash, you have that overhead.

      3. I agree in general but I would like to know why you think cashless is more secure. I think large scale theft is much less prevalent with cash

        1. Yeah, you are less likely to get robbed for $100 if you have cash. But more likely to get your bank account emptied with electronic transactions.

          1. More likely to get robbed.

          2. Even if a business only takes cash, they deposit it in a bank account – so they aren’t safe from hackers. OTOH, posting on the door that you don’t take cash is a pretty good deterrent to armed robbers and burglars.

            Also, robberies and burglaries cost a lot more than stolen cash or other items. Robbers might shoot your employees – and maybe your customers, too, like the bank robber that recently killed five people. Burglars generally do thousands of dollars of damage in breaking in, usually for only a few hundred in cash. If the cash isn’t enough, they might steal from the shelves – and they’ll need to take a lot of merchandise, since they can’t get more than 10-20% of the store price for it. Two things you can pretty well count on: (1) If the thief is caught, he won’t be able to pay more than a tiny part of the losses, and (2) if insurance pays for the losses, the rates will be raised to take back that payment in a few years.

  19. As a policy, it’s hugely preferable to the various attempts at pushing a “cashless” society. And I suppose it’s a block against businesses being voluntold by the government to adopt a cash-free policy “spontaneously on their own initiative.”

  20. “You don’t have a credit card, well you can go to 7-Eleven,”

    And at 7-Eleven you can buy a pre-paid Visa card and then go to whatever cashless business you want

  21. Easy solution: Cash transactions must be exact amount; no change available.

    1. all fast food joints should take a cue from the movie theaters and round everything up to the nearest quarter, and include taxes in the menu price. it would save them several seconds on each cash order and increase the number of people they could serve every day.

  22. Bake.

  23. There is no “unbanked”. Chances are if you’re working a low end job, you’re getting paid with a cash card that is hooked up to a bank account you singed up for when you started at the company. If you’re getting any kind of government benefits, you’re getting them through direct deposit or a card.

  24. Wow, how awful. If only the market could provide a solution…..

  25. What will be more worrisome will be the inevitable outlawing of cash.

    1. I don’t see that happening with the dollar any time soon. US $100’s are too essential to international commerce.

  26. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail…..

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