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Miami-Dade could soon ban cashless businesses. Here's why


'Cashless' businesses have boomed during the pandemic. But a county commissioner says cashless excludes low income residents from parts of the economy.

Over the course of the pandemic many businesses and governments have taken steps to implement “touchless” systems. For many restaurants and bars, this has meant a move away from paper menus. For others, it has manifested in moves to stop accepting cash payments.

The pandemic served as an accelerator for these “contactless” and “cashless” movements, since at first it was unclear if COVID-19 could be transmitted after touching an infected surface. But this hypothesis has thoroughly been obliterated through further research, which finds extremely low likelihood of infections spreading through touch.

COVID-19 is almost exclusively airborne.

Yet still, as we look about us, the move to “contactless” and “cashless” systems has not slowed. Over the course of the pandemic cashless businesses have more than doubled, according to the point-of-sale company Square.

Credit card companies and point-of-sale companies have been urging and incentivizing the shift, since cashless transactions allow them to take a set percentage of each sale. On the other hand, the companies argue it allows for automation, which in turn saves businesses labor costs.

Philadelphia became the first city in the US to ban “cashless” businesses back in 2019. New York City, San Francisco and the states of New Jersey and Rhode Island followed suit. Massachusetts has required all businesses to accept cash payments since the 1970s.

As the pandemic accelerated the movement, other cities have followed suit, claiming consumers who don’t have bank accounts and who rely on cash are being pushed out of markets.

Miami-Dade County could well be the next major metropolitan area to ban most cashless businesses. County commissioner Rene Garcia, a former State Senator and the chairman of the Miami-Dade Republican Party, has introduced an ordinance that would impact the entire county.

WLRN recently spoke with Garcia about his ordinance, which has already passed a committee hearing. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

WLRN: You have brought forward an ordinance that looks like it could pass later this year that would require most retail businesses in Miami-Dade to accept cash. What was it that made this an issue that you decided to take up?

GARCIA: I think personal experience. I had an issue not too long ago in Coral Gables with a parking situation that I ended up getting a ticket for. The machine wasn't working. And then I didn't have the app. It's just that the system was down or I could not access a line and I ended up getting a ticket for that. I found it a little frustrating.

And then paying attention to what's going on. Everywhere you go, you're starting to see us move away from a legal tender to cashless situations.

I just think that the only one that benefits is the banks. I'm not saying get rid of cashless and get rid of the other payment options, but it should not eliminate cash. You should be able to accept legal tender.

Tens of millions of Americans don't have a credit card or have a bank statement. You're neglecting people the ability to purchase items because of the lack of having the technology with them. That's one. Number two, the reason I say the banks benefit from this is because at the end of the day, when you use a bank card or you use a credit card — most credit cards — you're going to be paying interest on top of that. And who does that hurt? Minority communities. Lower economic communities. That's why I have some serious issues.

Do we have any rough estimate here in Miami-Dade County of how many people use primarily cash?

We haven't had a study conducted on that. The one thing that I know is what I see in my own district in the city of Hialeah — I represent Northwest Dade, which encompasses Hialeah, Miami Lakes and other areas. You do see a lot of individuals who don't have credit cards, and that are getting forced out of being able to purchase simple items.

One reason I've seen for why some businesses say that they're going cashless is because it helps automate a lot of the clerical work that comes with running a business. So, for instance, instead of having an employee handle and count cash, they can automate it on some level and that they feel that it can maximize the money they make and maximize their profits. How would you respond to a business owner that might not like what you're trying to do?

I'm not telling them that they have to get rid of their automated processes. They can continue to have that. But until we change the legal tender of the United States of America, you should be able to accept the dollar. And that's where I have some consternation and and I think we were entering into some very murky waters when we start eliminating the currency — our own currency — from our own economy.

Is this something you would like to see focused on in Tallahassee? Something done on the statewide level?

There was legislation that was presented this year in Tallahassee, but unfortunately did not move. But I know other jurisdictions across the country are starting to realize that this is a problem.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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