San Francisco Bans Cashless Stores

City officials say card- and app-only stores exclude low-income people who may not have access to bank accounts or credit.

San Francisco has officially banned cashless stores, with city officials saying businesses that only accept payment by card or app exclude low-income people who may not have access to bank accounts or credit.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the city’s Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance that will require brick-and-mortar business to accept cash payment for goods and services.

The law makes an exception for internet-only businesses like ride-hailing companies, as well as for food trucks and pop-up stores.

The ordinance specifically pointed to the “many City residents” who are denied access to credit or are unable to open bank accounts and therefore wouldn’t be able to use stores that don’t accept cash.

“This is especially true of the very poor,” the ordinance says, noting that particularly vulnerable groups are homeless and immigrant populations.

San Francisco ― a city at the heart of Northern California’s tech-boom-fueled affordable housing crisis ― had about 7,500 homeless people in 2017, including more than 4,300 who were unsheltered or living outdoors, per its latest count.

About 6.5% of U.S. households are “unbanked,” according to a 2017 report from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. ― meaning that no one in the household has a checking or savings account. For black families, that figure is even higher, with 17% who are unbanked, and 14% for Hispanic families.

“In this reality, not accepting cash payment is tantamount to systematically excluding segments of the population that are largely low-income people of color,” the ordinance added.

Last month, ahead of the city supervisors’ vote, Amazon said its Amazon Go stores, which are meant to provide a shopping experience that doesn’t involve a cash register, would begin to accept cash. Similarly, salad company Sweetgreen announced last month that it would accept cash at all its restaurants by the end of the year.

New Jersey and Philadelphia also passed laws banning cashless stores earlier this year, and similar legislation has been introduced in New York City.

Businesses in San Francisco have up to 90 days to comply with the new rule, or face fines.


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