City Council Makes Greenbacks Legal Tender At All Food & Retail Outlets


Yesterday was a great day for all New Yorkers without bank accounts.

That after the City Council voted in favor of bill 1281-A that prohibits food and retail establishments from refusing to accept cash from customers. 

The much batted around measure comes after an increasing number of coffee shops, restaurants and other retail shops began refusing to take cash, only allowing for debit/credit cards and other digital forms of payment, leaving impoverished New Yorkers with no credit, and slim or no bank accounts unable to make purchases with greenbacks.

Council Member Rafael Espinal
City Council Member Rafael Espinal

This led to City Councilmembers Ritchie Torres and Rafael Espinal, Jr. (D-Bushwick, Brownsville, Cypress Hills, East New York) introducing legislation last year mandating that ‘legal tender’ is indeed ‘legal tender’ at all retail outlets.

However, the bill was pulled from being voted on in August due to questions of legality, but made its comeback yesterday after Torres and Espinal spent up to a year nudging it. 

“No longer in NYC will brick-and-mortar businesses have the right to refuse cash and effectively discriminate against customers who lack access to credit and debit.” Torres said, “The city of New York cannot allow the digital economy to leave behind the 25% of New Yorkers who are chronically unbanked and underbanked. The marketplace of the future must accommodate the needs of vulnerable New Yorkers.” 

The bill, which critics opposed to on the basis of it being discriminatory against race and an imposition on their privacy rights, also prohibits businesses to charge a higher sum of money than those using a credit or debit card. Failure to comply means a penalty of $1,000 for the first violation, with an added $500 for successive violations. 

Many establishments who have transferred to the new age method of cashless transactions proclaim that as private business owners this is an infringement of their personal ownership. Furthermore, the benefits of going cashless provides increased employee security and a move away from human error with cash discrepancies and mistakes, they argued.

But Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) was more than happy to see this bill approved.

“I’m thrilled to see this bill pass the council. This is a big win in support of unbanked New Yorkers, many of whom are low income and/or immigrants. Our economy belongs to everyone.” 

The bill, once reviewed and ratified by Mayor Bill de Blasio, will take effect in 9 months.