The War on Cash

As a Latino, the co-chair of the Latino Caucus and former chair of the LGBTQ Caucus in the Colorado House of Representatives, I am more than familiar with how minority communities experience disproportionate impacts in their everyday lives. That is why, along with many of my colleagues in Colorado, we passed legislation that would prohibit one of the most harmful yet overlooked business practices today: the proliferation of cashless transactions. But passing the law in one state is not enough.

We need Congress to take action so that no American slips through the cracks.

Preserving cash as legal tender supports all members of our society, but especially people of color, lower-income families, the elderly, the undocumented and the unhoused. As our economy and communities continue to navigate and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to ensure that every person can fully participate in our economy. Cashless systems prevent this, stifling economic recovery and hindering healthy communities. Omitting one of the simplest ways to pay — cash — is inequitable.

The “war on cash” is not a new concept, but we saw examples increase exponentially throughout the global health pandemic, adding even more strain to families navigating such tumultuous times.

There are approximately 55 million Americans who are unbanked or underbanked. Nearly half of Black households in the United States are unbanked or underbanked, and minority consumers are nearly twice as likely to pay with cash compared to white consumers. Without protections for cash payments, businesses would essentially be legally permitted to discriminate against these people.

A cashless economy is not an inclusive economy. It creates a two-tiered, unequal system between the banked and the unbanked/underbanked, which amounts to a de facto form of socioeconomic and racial discrimination.

Slowly but surely, communities are falling victim to the cashless scheme. It is now not uncommon to walk into restaurants, coffee shops and other small businesses only to be confronted by signs saying they have “gone cashless.” What this means for the marginalized and underprivileged people without any way to pay for goods and services except for cash, however, is “keep out — you are not welcome.”

When crafting the bill in Colorado and ahead of my recent congressional testimony, I spoke with a variety of folks about how this would impact them. Some were not able to buy their groceries at a local store and were forced to travel longer distances just to find establishments that would accept cash for a carton of milk. I’ve heard from immigrants who earn a living in the cash economy who are concerned that their ability to purchase basic goods will be taken away. I have listened to parents who save cash to buy gifts for their children.

While states like Colorado and several cities have started to push back against the cashless economy, a patchwork of inconsistent regulations is not enough.

This is an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans alike to take real, bold action to improve the lives of working Americans. We must do so now. Marginalized people have worked too hard and suffered too much over the past two years for us to turn a blind eye to this harmful practice. We owe it to them to provide cash protections swiftly and decisively.

Our currency states it is good for all debts public and private. It’s time Congress passes this legislation and President Joe Biden signs it, making that statement a reality.


Alex Valdez (D) is a member of the Colorado House of Representatives.

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