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King County councilmember proposes ban on cashless shops

Jeanne Kohl-Welles proposed requiring retailers in unincorporated King County accept cash for people without access to bank accounts or credit cards.

KING COUNTY, Wash. — A King County councilmember proposed required businesses in the unincorporated parts of the county to accept cash. The move is intended to make sure everyone can buy what they need.

Dong Thap Noodles has been in the Chinatown International District for nearly a decade. In the last three years, its been a victim of multiple break-ins.

“The first thing they go after is the cash register. They'll find anything to sell for $10 to $15 and take some of the small items and take them around the corner and get whatever they can get for it,” said owner Nick Bui.

Bui said it’s hurt business, “It’s been tough and our sales have been down 30%, but it’s gotten a little bit better.”

Break-ins have led multiple other businesses across Seattle and King County to go cashless, but for Bui that’s something his business won’t do.

“Most of our customers in this area don't have access to credit cards and what can we do if they don't have credit cards. We take cash and will continue to take cash,” Bui said.

While Bui’s restaurant doesn’t apply to the proposed legislation that’s what King County councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles wants the 210 retailers in unincorporated King County to do so everyone can participate in King County’s economy.

“We're talking about people who are low income, people who are poor, people who are unhoused, teenagers, children, youth and also people who are living in marginalized communities, including immigrants, refugees, people of color,” Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles said.

Kohl-Welles said the break-ins are legitimate concerns and said she hopes to find a good balance.

“Income inequality is growing here and across the country. More and more people, I believe, are having a hard time paying for their what they need to live,” Kohl-Welles said.

The proposed ban would impact two groups of people the most, unbanked and underbanked.

Unbanked refers to people who don't have bank accounts or credit cards. according to a recent FDIC survey 2% of people in Washington fall into this category, in King County that’s approximately 67,000 people. Those that are underbanked means they have a bank account but rely on other payment methods. This applies to 17% of people in our state and could be more than 380,000 people in King County.

The proposed legislation would require businesses in unincorporated King County to accept up to $250 in cash for a single transaction. Businesses are also not allowed to charge cash paying customers a higher price.

Kohl-Welles said other cities and states are saying no to cashless shops, like New York City. The legislation currently sits in King County's local services committee and likely will have a public hearing in February. Kohl-Welles said her legislation is proactive and already looking a more ways to improve it.

“I'm very enthusiastic about this and it's wrong to discriminate against people being able to purchase needed essential products and services,” she said.

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