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Snohomish County businesses can't totally nix cash under new law

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Just like country music, cash is king in Snohomish County now that the county council has passed an ordinance that will keep the dollars flowing.

“Cash is legal tender in the United States,” said Snohomish County vice-chair Nate Nehring. “Ensuring that residents are able to continue to conduct transactions using cash is important, particularly for those who tend to use cash more often, such as minors, individuals without access to credit, and senior citizens.”

Nehring sponsored the cash ordinance that the Snohomish County Council approved Wednesday. It secures the option to use cash at all businesses in unincorporated areas of the county. In other words, no businesses can go cashless. The cash rule goes into effect in 2025.

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That's the same time that King County's cash law will come online, too. The King County Council passed a similar rule in June. Snohomish County cited the same reasoning as King for why it passed the law — not everybody has a bank account (known as unbanked or under-banked), or has limited access to electronic forms of payment. The county notes that an estimated 3% of Washingtonians are unbanked, and about 17% are underbanked.

"As we continue to advance technologically as a society, we need to take care not to leave behind those who are on the margins and may not have access to certain resources like banking and electronic services,” council chair Jared Mead said.

Cashless forms of payment have become increasingly common, from using a debit or credit card, to paying with an app on a smartphone. If a business only accepts these forms of payment, it can prevent those who rely on cash from buying food or other needs.

Under Snohomish County's new cash rule, businesses cannot charge a customer different prices for using cash. A cash exchange terminal must be available if they choose to go totally cashless. Businesses can apply for an exception if they have repeatedly been robbed, if they only have one employee on a shift, if they are located within a residence, or if the business' bank is more than 15 miles away.

Two warnings will be given to a business before they receive a citation for breaking the cash rule.

RELATED: What are the impacts of going 'cash-free' in King County?

“As a former small business owner, I understand the need to embrace new technology, but also know that there are many in our community that don’t have access to these technologies,” Snohomish councilmember Strom Peterson said. “This ordinance is about fairness, and that’s a good thing.”

Snohomish County notes that aside from King County, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco have passed similar cash ordinances, as well as the states of Massachusetts and New Jersey.

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