Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to add more context.

An ordinance banning businesses from not accepting cash collected support from the Human Services Committee as well as Health and Human Services Director Ike Ogbo. But even with that support, once it got to the City Council floor Monday, Jan. 23, it fell short.

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Instead, the council sent the proposed ordinance to the Equity and Empowerment Commission and the Economic Development Committee for further review.

“As much as I agree with the underlying objectives of this ordinance, I’m not prepared to vote for it as it’s currently presented to us tonight,” said Fourth Ward City Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma. “As the representative of the Fourth Ward, we’ve got a number of businesses who have expressed serious concern with this ordinance, including small businesses.”

The proposed ordinance would make it unlawful for food and retail establishments within city limits to ban cash transactions. Business owners in violation would be charged up to $1,000 for the first infraction. Additional violations would entail a civil penalty of not more than $1,500 each.

The ordinance’s language is modeled after one in New York City, which banned cashless food and retail establishments in 2020.

No one on the council or city staff knew the exact number of Evanston businesses that are currently cashless, but Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak estimated there were a handful.

When this proposed ordinance was discussed at council earlier this month, Sixth Ward Council Member Thomas Suffredin requested for the number of businesses in the city that are cashless. Without this information, Suffredin repeatedly called voting “yes” on the ordinance “irresponsible.”

“I’m just trying to figure out how many businesses were affecting, how many people were helping, if there’s another way to do it,” Suffredin said. “I just I think without any of that information, it’s irresponsible to pass this. It may be a good policy objective, but we don’t know who we’re hurting, who we’re helping and if there’s a better way to do it, then it’s proposed.”

“…I don’t think everyone here knows how many businesses in their own wards they would be affecting, and I think they don’t know how many people on their wards they’d be helping. And I think it’s irresponsible to vote yes. Until we have that information at least.”

Second Ward City Council Member Krissie Harris pushed back on the comments, saying, “When dealing in diversity, equity and inclusion, you are supposed to listen to the people who are telling you what their needs are and the people that have sat up here today are people of color who’ve told you this is what’s happening,” said Harris. “This is a reality. This isn’t make believe.”

Security issues for businesses, banking issues for individuals

The council hopes that the Economic Development Committee will be able to identify the number of businesses that will be impacted, while the Equity and Empowerment Commission will help illustrate the population of people who will be impacted by the trend of cashless businesses.

During the Jan. 23 City Council meeting, Alan Moy the co-owner of Viet Nom Nom, located on Church Street, spoke in opposition of the proposed cashless ban. Moy focused on safety and cost concerns.

“We’ve had one break in, at least a half dozen incidents of people stealing and taking tip jars,” Moy said. “We’ve had an incident where three people organize a scheme to take money out of my cashiers hands. This presents a major safety issue when cash is known to be on site.”

“There’s also security issues when having someone from your team take cash to and from a bank if they are seen by others outside of your restaurant or business in this case, regardless of type of industry you are going to be a target.”

“The third point I have is around labor and expenses involved. You ask any restaurant owner business owner you’re spending at least five to a dozen plus hours literally counting cash before service after service. You are counting cash in between you are counting cash for deposits and the reconciliation with all that. This racks up to become several hundred dollars a week. Labor over the course of the year this could be tens of thousands of dollars just to literally count cash.”

Eighth Ward City Council Member Devon Reid has pushed for this ordinance to ensure that those who don’t have access to a bank account are able to get the resources they need in the city.

“A ‘no’ vote means that there are seniors, there are unhoused people, there are undocumented people who will not be able to access the same goods as other folks simply because they’re unbanked,” Reid said.

The city’s Health and Human Services Director Ogbo wrote a memo to the council in support of the cashless ban.

“The creation of Ordinance 2-O-23 is to ascertain that community members without bank accounts and debit or credit cards have the same access to goods and services at food and retail establishments as other community members with bank/credit cards,” Ogbo’s memo said.

But Suffredin requested data on the number of Evanstonians who don’t have bank accounts.

Sue Loellbach, manager of advocacy for Connections for the Homeless, was present during the meeting and came to the microphone to speak on the issue. She confirmed that there is a large presence of people in the city who don’t have access to a bank account.

“We serve several hundred people each year who live on the street, and I would say most of them are not banked,” Loellbach said. “And then we also work with lots of people who call each year needing help with apartments, and I don’t have the percentage of how many are banked, but I know that that is an issue with a lot of them.”

Major cities have passed legislation banning cashless businesses. Philadelphia banned cashless establishments in 2019. San Francisco and New Jersey passed similar ordinances shortly thereafter.

Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative reporting....

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  1. Telling ALL businesses that they have to accept cash is government over-reach. Plenty of big retailers in Evanston, Jewel, Trader Joes, Target, Walgreens take cash for those that need/want to use it. If small retailers find it easier and safer to only accept e-transactions then they should be allowed to do so. I truly believe cash usage will continue to decline and at some point in the not too distant future will basically go away. At that point some kind of money e-card will need to be provided for people without a bank account either by the banks or by the government. And as Stephan noted, those with cash who want to shop at a cashless store can always buy a Visa or MC gift card at places like Target, Jewel or Walgreens.

  2. Can’t you just buy a visa gift card from Walgreens if you want to shop at a cashless place?

    The businesses are doing it for safety reasons. If they want to risk losing business due to safety that is their prerogative.

    This is such a non issue.

  3. Anyone with a hundred dollars can open a basic savings (or even checking) account, which includes an ATM debit card, there are no credit checks, all is required are valid ID’s (for checking accounts the bank will check with ChexSystems for any negative checking account activities). There are also those who eschew traditional banking out of fear that accounts may be garnished for child support, debts, etc.… and some actually *prefer* currency exchanges for their financial dealings; some will only “deal in cash” for their financial needs…

    As a social services case manager, I’ve had clients who absolutely refuse to deal with banks, despite my urging them to use non – profit credit unions that welcome low – income and the unbanked to open accounts, including the opportunity to have a secured bank card that would enable them to establish/grow a credit history…

    “Sue Loellbach, manager of advocacy for Connections for the Homeless, confirmed that there is a large presence of people in the city who don’t have access to a bank account…”

    A number of homeless do not have proper ID’s, which are needed in order to open a bank account. Connections for the Homeless has skilled case managers who will gladly assist their clients in obtaining state ID and Social Security cards (also birth certificates), this service is offered first thing to clients when they are in the process of enrolling for services with Connections (other social service entities will also do this). For those clients who lack an address, they can also use Connections as a temporary mailing address, this is SOP with most homeless services agencies. Of course, it is incumbent upon clients to follow through with all this, and not all may choose to do so…