Like many places in America, Houston’s businesses and their customers have been living with the hassle of the pandemic-caused coin shortage. While the Federal Reserve Bank says there are enough coins in the economy overall, circulation has slowed since the beginning of the pandemic. That reduced circulation has led to reduced inventories in many local economies, including here in Houston.
The short answer is COVID-19. The U.S. Mint was operating at a reduced capacity to follow Coronavirus safety protocols. Meanwhile, Americans were staying home more and making online purchases instead of going to a store. Some businesses encouraged contactless payment options to reduce the risk of transmission.
The result of these pandemic-triggered behavioral changes is a temporary coin shortage. The overall number of coins that local bank branches usually send to the Federal Reserve for nationwide distribution has fallen. So when businesses began to reopen, disruptions to the coin supply at both the local and national level prompted requests for “exact change only” or payment by debit/credit card.
At a time when local small businesses have already been struggling, dealing with a coin shortage presents additional challenges. Business owners want to accommodate any customers without a bank account (and thus a debit card) who use cash for daily purchases. And if they don’t provide correct change, they could be sued like Chipotle. So businesses are resorting to pleas for exact change or incentives for coin exchange, such as a free item in exchange for a certain amount of coins. Ultimately, businesses built around the use of coins, such as laundromats, are the hardest hit.
The Federal Reserve Bank created a U.S. Coin Task Force to “#getcoinmoving.” Their initial report and recommendations include various strategies to encourage public recirculation of coins.
As Houston’s longest-serving community bank, Central Bank wants to help and we invite you to be part of the solution with us. Visit your nearest branch in Houston to exchange your coins for cash and #getcoinmoving to help support the local economy.