New York Shops Must Accept Cash, City Council Rules

January 26, 2020 Updated: January 28, 2020

Food stores and retail establishments in the Big Apple may not refuse cash from patrons under new legislation that bans certain categories of businesses from going fully cashless.

The New York City Council voted on Jan. 23 to adopt a law that bans food and retail establishments from refusing to accept cash from consumers and imposes fines for noncompliance.

The law also prohibits establishments from charging cash-paying consumers a higher price than cash-less consumers, but allows businesses to refuse to accept notes in denominations greater than $20.

Transactions taking place completely online, by phone or mail are excluded from the cashless ban.

“No longer in #NYC will brick-and-mortar businesses have the right to refuse cash & effectively discriminate against customers who lack access to credit and debit,” New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres, who introduced the bill, said in a tweet.

“This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private,” Torres said in a press conference. “These words reinforce our intuitive sense that cash is a universal currency and therefore ought to command universal acceptance here in New York City.”

“Whatever your reasons, consumers should have the power to choose their preferred method of payment,” he added.

Back when Torres introduced the bill in 2018, he argued that businesses going cashless would discriminate against people with impaired access to banking services.

“Restaurants that do not accept cash can pose a lot of challenges to low-income people, and communities of color that may have difficulty accessing traditional banking options and access to credit cards,” Torres said, the New York Post reported at the time. “This is a matter of equity and economic justice.”

A 2015 Urban Institute study found that around one in nine households in New York City in 2013 did not have a bank account.

“Nationwide, millions of Americans live on the economic margins,” the study noted, citing a 2014 FDIC study. “Nearly 10 million US households (7.7 percent) are unbanked, meaning they do not have a checking or savings account.”

A follow-up FDIC study into unbanked and underbanked households (pdf) found that the nationwide figure for households without a bank account dropped to 6.5 percent in 2017 from 7.7 percent in 2013.

Businesses have a nine-month grace period before the law takes effect.

“The effective date of the bill was amended from 180 to 270 days after it becomes law to allow businesses more time to comply,” the Committee report states.

The legislation was approved with a vote of 43-3, with Staten Island Republicans Steve Matteo and Joe Borelli, and Brooklyn Democrat Kalman Yeger, voting against.

Similar bans exist in other parts of the country, including Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Businesses found to be in violation of the cashless ban face fines of up to $1,000 for the first infraction and up to $1,500 for each subsequent one.

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