New York is on track to ban cashless businesses after the city council voted to join San Francisco and Philadelphia in requiring brick-and-mortar stores to accept cash.
Under the law, food and retail establishments would have to accept American bills and coins or face a fine. Mayor Bill De Blasio is expected to sign the bill, his office told CNN.
“When you open a dollar bill, it reads ‘This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private,’” said Councilman Ritchie Torres, the sponsor of the bill. “Cash ought to command universal acceptance.”
Once signed, businesses would have nine months to adjust before the law takes effect.
Torres said the bill would protect the most vulnerable New Yorkers, such as seniors, homeless people and undocumented residents.
A 2015 Urban Institute study found that almost 40% of the city’s households were “unbanked” or “underbanked” – meaning they have no bank accounts or use alternative financial services – increasing their reliance on cash. That percentage is higher outside of Manhattan, where large swathes of the city have few banking services.
Those areas also tend to have more immigrants and people of color, according to the New Economy Project, an organization for low income New Yorkers.
Some businesses opposed the bill in early hearings, saying that going cashless streamlined their operations and deterred robberies.
“We welcome the digitilization of the American economy, but we have to ensure the digital economy in no way leaves the most vulnerable behind,” Torres said.
Torres, 31, says he usually uses credit or debit cards but has experienced waiting in line at a business with only cash in his pocket, just to find out it was cashless.
“I found it to be a humiliating experience,” Torres said. “I thought to myself, ‘How could a business reject legal tender?’ It just struck me as counterintuitive.”
Businesses that still want cashless transactions can provide a machine that exchanges cash for a gift card, but must accept cash if the machine breaks down, according to the new law.
The law would not apply to online transactions.