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US Running Low on Coins, Prompting Retailers to Limit Cash Transactions


Toilet paper, paper towels, rice.

Those are just a few of the items where we had to face shortages due to the COVID pandemic.

Thankfully, most of those have subsided at this point.

But there’s a new shortage going around and it seemed to come out of nowhere.

You can add pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters to the list of COVID-induced shortages.

Retailers and supermarkets, faced with dwindling supplies, are now requesting customers pay with exact change or use credit or debit cards for payment.

Here’s the report from NPR on the nation’s latest shortage:

Just as supplies of toilet paper are finally getting back to normal, the coronavirus has triggered another shortage of something we typically take for granted: pocket change.

Banks around the U.S. are running low on nickels, dimes, quarters and even pennies. And the Federal Reserve, which supplies banks, has been forced to ration scarce supplies.

“It was just a surprise,” said Gay Dempsey, who runs the Bank of Lincoln County in Tennessee, when she learned of the rationing order. “Nobody was expecting it.”

Dempsey’s bank typically dispenses 400 to 500 rolls of pennies each week. Under the rationing order, her allotment was cut down to just 100 rolls, with similar cutbacks in nickels, dimes and quarters.

That spells trouble for Dempsey’s business customers, who need the coins to stock cash registers all around Lincoln County, Tenn.

“You think about all your grocery stores and convenience stores and a lot of people that still operate with cash,” Dempsey said. “They have to have that just to make change.”

Rural banks in particular seem to be getting shortchanged, according to Colin Barrett, CEO of the Tennessee Bankers Association.

Rep. John Rose, R-Tenn., sounded the alarm last week during a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee.

“My fear is that customers who use these banks will react very poorly,” Rose said. “And I know that we all don’t want to wake up to headlines in the near future such as ‘Banks Out of Money.’ “

The congressman warned that if businesses are unable to make exact change, they’ll be forced to round up or round down, “in a time when pennies are the difference between profitability and loss.”

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell assured Rose that the central bank is monitoring the situation closely.

“We’re working with the mint to increase supply, and we’re working with the reserve banks to get that supply where it needs to be,” Powell said. “So we think it’s a temporary situation.”

Take a look at some of tweets showing signs popping up around the country:

Penn Live has more details on how the coin shortage is affecting businesses:

Those pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters are far more precious due to a national coin shortage brought on by the coronavirus and resulting shut down.

As a result, the Giant supermarkets chain is the newest member of a growing list of retailers limiting cash transactions and/or demanding exact change.

“Due to the national coin shortage, select Giant registers can only accept credit, debit, and electronic payments at this time,” company spokesman Christopher Brand said in response to PennLive questions about coin shortages on Friday.

As the New York Post reports, Lowe’s home improvement stores have posted signs urging shoppers to pay with exact change or use other forms of payment, as have convenience stores such as 7-Eleven, Pilot and Circle K, according to news reports and social media posts.

The reason for pinching those pennies – along with quarters, nickels and dimes? It’s yet another thing to blame on the coronavirus and the resulting national lockdown of businesses across the country.

The Post writes the pandemic “significantly disrupted” the supply chain and circulation patterns for America’s metal money.

On one hand, the US Mint slowed production of coins to protect workers amid the crisis, the Post writes. On the other, coin deposits from banks also plunged these past few months, bringing the normal circulation to a near standstill that still hasn’t thawed.

“Stores have been closed. The whole system of flow had come to a stop,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell recently told House Financial Services Committee. “As the economy reopens, we’re seeing coins begin to move around again,” he added, according to the Post.

But the customary coinage circulation hasn’t come back just yet.

You can watch Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell's appearance on CNBC right here, where he explains the coin shortage:


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