Coin shortage forcing retailers to accept only cards, exact change
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Just when U.S. residents were getting adjusted to life in the time of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, another problem — a highly unexpected one — has cropped up.
From supermarkets to gas stations to convenience stores, local retailers and those across the country are asking shoppers to pay with a card or produce exact change when possible, due to an apparent nationwide shortage of coinage.
The problem began to make itself manifest several weeks ago, when the pandemic created a double-whammy to the U.S. supply of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies.
Federal Reserve Board officials blamed coin rationing on a decline in production at the U.S. Mint due to social distancing and other safety measures put in place due to the spread of the virus. Also, according to Forbes Media, fewer coins are making their way into circulation as people remain indoors and do the bulk of their shopping online.
“In the past few months, coin deposits from depository institutions to the Federal Reserve have declined significantly, and the U.S. Mint’s production of coin also decreased due to measures put in place to protect its employees,” a spokesman for the nation’s central bank told Forbes magazine. “The Federal Reserve is working on several fronts to mitigate the effects of low coin inventories.”
Brandy Giger, Human Resources Director at First National Bank & Trust in Atmore, said the local lending institution is hopeful the Federal Reserve will continue to ease the rationing of coins as production increases.
“Coins are not being circulated because of quarantining,” she said. “We’re rolling our own coins — people who come in who have coins they need rolled, we’re doing that for our customers — trying to recoup coins from the shortage. They (the Federal Reserve) put a threshold on it probably two months ago. Little by little, they’re giving us some of it back, but it’s nowhere near what we used to do in change orders.”
Local companies such as Walmart and Dollar General have felt the pinch of the coin shortage as much as or more than others. The corporate entities have put several new protocols in place to deal with the issue.
“Like most retailers, we’re experiencing the effects of the nationwide coin shortage,” said Avani Dudhia of Walmart’s Corporate Communications Department, in reply to a request from Atmore News. “We’re asking customers to pay with a card or to use correct change when possible, if they need to pay with cash.”
However, Dudhia said, none of the company’s stores are refusing to accept cash.
“Cash is welcome at all of our stores.,” she said. “However, we have converted some of our self-checkout registers to card-only registers. Customers also have the option to donate their change to charity.”
All the Atmore store’s self-checkout registers have been converted to plastic-only, as have most of the other registers. Reports from customers are that only one register is set up to accept cash and give proper change.
An employee of a local Dollar General store said the sudden shortage caught her and her co-workers by surprise.
“I don’t know what happened,” said the employee, who asked not to be identified in print. “One day, we had plenty of change; the next day, there wasn’t any.”
An article posted on FastCompany.com points out that those who don’t have debit or credit cards — as well as the businesses they frequent — are most affected by the shortage-fueled payment requirements.
“This coin shortage hurts people who still need to, or want to, pay in cash,” the article reads. “That’s because some businesses are now requiring exact change, or for customers to pay via debit or credit card because they have no other options. This, in turn, hurts small businesses who may lose customers who want to pay in cash but don’t have exact change.”
The article also points out that some banks, mostly in the country’s northern tier, are paying as much as a 5-percent premium to individuals who redeem coins.
Giger said FNB&T hasn’t gotten to that point. Not yet anyway.
“No, we’re not hurting right now,” she said.