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Proposal would stop businesses from going cashless in King County

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Cash will remain king in King County under a new council proposal that would require all businesses in unincorporated areas to accept cash.

County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles introduced the legislation Thursday. She says accepting cash ensures that residents who don't have access to credit or banking accounts, and therefore rely on cash, can still participate in the economy.

“When I am out and about, I am finding that more and more businesses are only accepting payment by credit cards or smart phones rather than cash,” Kohl-Welles said. “I believe the trend in this direction is highly problematic as it will prevent many people in our community who do not have bank accounts from participating in the economy. And this isn’t just a novel problem, it has the capacity to further hurt our most marginalized communities from accessing the goods and services they need to survive.”

Kohl-Welles says that when businesses go cashless, it most affects communities of color, seniors, people with disabilities, undocumented residents, refugee and immigrant groups, and low-income residents.

Many businesses are gradually shifting away from cash transactions for simplicity and greater security. Kohl-Welles' office points to the latest FDIC survey, in 2021, which shows at least 2% of Washingtonians don't use bank services, such as debit and credit cards. The office says this figure implies that as many at 67,000 people in King County are "unbanked."

Kohl-Welles' office admits it is unknown exactly how many businesses in the county have gone cashless. The council member hopes the proposal will address any potential issues in the future.

“While it is true that this legislation will only pertain to unincorporated King County, I believe that King County is a trend– and example–setter,” Kohl-Welles said. “I am confident that if this ordinance is approved, we will bring attention on this burgeoning issue to a much wider audience.”

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