- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2020

The D.C. Council on Thursday considered legislation that would ban cashless, brick-and-mortar businesses in an effort to make the city less vulnerable to cyberattacks and more friendly to residents without banking or credit cards.

During the hearing by council’s Committee of the Whole, the director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs asked the lawmakers to consider exempting certain industries, citing concerns from business owners.

“By eliminating cash transactions, business owners are able to remove physical cash registers, eliminate the time employees spend manually counting and managing money, and deter robberies,” said DCRA Director Ernest Chrappah, adding that he supports the legislation’s intent.

But Council Chairman Phil Mendelson questioned the significance of removing cash registers when payment consoles would still be present for swiping credit cards, and noted data breaches at retail stores such as Target and Macy’s.

“I am going to look at the exemptions with a skeptical eye because I think the overriding principles of the legislation, which are equity and cybersecurity, pertain to every situation, so why would we create an exemption?” Mr. Mendelson told The Washington Times after the hearing, adding that he plans to clarify language in the bill to exempt online purchases.

Several witnesses cited a 2017 Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. study that found 8% of D.C. residents don’t have a checking or savings account (unbanked) and 21% have a bank account but still use check-cashing or payday loans (underbanked). A total of 93,500 D.C. households are unbanked or underbanked, the study found.

“Unlike other forms of payment, cash is an equal opportunity payment option — meaning anyone, regardless of age, race or income can access cash. Conversely, cashless retail acceptance policies are noninclusive,” said Crystal Wright of Cardtronics, the world’s largest ATM operator. “When merchants mandate cashless payment policies for whatever reason, they are picking and choosing which type of customers they want to serve, effectively engaging in payment discrimination.”

A number of public services, such as D.C. public swimming pools, are cashless operations. The legislation, introduced last year by Council member David Grosso, would apply only to commercial businesses.

“The bill, as written, focuses on inequities in commercial retail,” Grosso spokesman Matthew Noccella said. “Council member Grosso is, however, concerned about the impact of cashless public services on our residents, particularly transit.”

In 2018, Mr. Grosso, at-large independent, wrote a letter to the Metro Board raising concerns about the cashless pilot program on the Georgia Avenue 79 express bus route.

David Julyan, a representative of the Washington Parking Association, expressed support for the bill but asked for carve-outs for parking garages, as other jurisdictions like New Jersey, New York City and Philadelphia have done.

He argued that cashless garages keep down the price of parking because attendants are not needed at every lot and attendants in remote locations can respond to any issues that arise.

Ms. Wright shared an anecdote of a time that she was trapped inside a parking garage for more than half an hour because no attendant was present.

Wes Fisher, an advocate for a vending machine association, asked for carve-outs for “micro markets” in employee break rooms. He said some mini marts lack the capacity to accept cash and noted that Philadelphia exempts them.

“Clearly, there exists the mechanical ability to add cash acceptance to these machines, seeing as how they are the experts at having machines that dispense food that accept cash. They have been doing it for over a hundred years,” said Zachary Hoffman, vice president of the D.C. Bar and Restaurant Workers Alliance.

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