King County takes a stand for cashless

Starting in two years, retail businesses in King County will be required to accept cash for customer purchases in what proponents say is necessary to open the economy to people who can’t afford or choose not to use bank accounts and credit cards.

The new local law covering unincorporated areas of the county was approved in June by the County Council and is scheduled to take effect July 1, 2025.

The measure supports consumers and businesses, said its sponsor, Councilwoman Jeanne Kohl-Welles. “Further, it signals that as technology continues to rapidly change as we (move) to a cashless society, there is a place for everybody in our local economy,” she said.

During and before the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses began shifting to cashless operations, leaving people who rely on cash with fewer options to purchase food and other essential consumer goods. The most-impacted consumers include communities of color, seniors, people with disabilities, immigrants and refugees, and the homeless, according to Kohl-Welles.

In King County, an estimated 7,000 people could be unbanked, a term meaning they don’t have bank accounts, credit cards, or other typical financial services, and more than 42,000 people might have a bank account but often rely on alternative financial services such as money orders, check-cashing services, and payday loans (unbanked). Those estimates are based on an FDIC survey in 2021 that found statewide, 2 percent of Washington residents are unbanked and 17 percent are underbanked, according to Kohl-Welles.