Photo of a hand holding credit and debit cards.

We need to continue using cash as a form of payment in order to include low-income folks in our society

As we go about our lives, you may have noticed that we are going increasingly paperless. Whether it’s spending money on your morning coffee, buying groceries or making a purchase online, many people opt for their debit or credit card as opposed to cash. In the world of Apple and Google Pay, it’s as easy as pressing a few buttons on your phone and holding it over the card machine.

However, going cashless isn’t easy for everyone as it excludes a large number of low-income folks and especially, houseless people.

To own a debit or credit card, you need to own a bank account. To do this, though, many Canadian banks, if not all, ask you for an address. It’s clear how this can be an issue for houseless folks or people who do not have stable housing — what address are they supposed to put?

In light of the Defund HPS protest that occurred this past November, it’s evident that lack of permanent housing is an issue that hits close to home. Additionally, banks often require you to deposit up to $100 in order to start a bank account, which can be a huge cost for some.

However, going cashless isn’t easy for everyone as it excludes a large number of low-income folks and especially, houseless people.

So although it may be convenient for many people to use their cards, not everyone is able to have a debit or credit card. Then, this leaves us with the problem of a society that is growing increasingly cashless: what do low-income folks do when they are unable to pay for groceries and other necessities because they do not have access to an electronic payment method?

Although many places still accept cash payments, there are many notable changes that have occurred that suggest that one day, we may no longer be able to use cash as a form of payment.

Even bus fares have become electronic. The Hamilton Street Railway stopped selling paper tickets and passes and all paper tickets expired by the end of 2020 in order to promote the use of Presto. While the HSR still accepts cash fares, they are $0.75 more expensive than a one-time Presto fare and your fare must be exact as no change will be provided.

Although you can refill a Presto card using cash, you can face issues loading your card. In addition, a Presto card costs $6, which is an additional financial barrier.

During the pandemic, the desire to rely on our debit and credit cards is even higher, as many people do not want to risk catching COVID by handling cash. Some stores even refuse to accept cash as a precaution. Even if you are able to use cash, many stores prefer electronic payment methods.

Even though I understand why this precaution is in place, the Centers for Disease Control and Contamination have highlighted that it is unlikely that COVID spreads often from touching surfaces, such as money. Thus, it should be safe to accept money, especially if that is the only form of payment someone has. If you want to take extra precautions, you can sanitize the money to make sure that you minimize the risk of COVID.

Even though I understand why this precaution is in place, the Centers for Disease Control and Contamination have highlighted that it is unlikely that COVID spreads often from touching surfaces, such as money.

Despite our movement towards a cashless society and despite the pandemic, we should still be accepting cash. Low-income folks already have so many barriers they have to face. At the very least, they shouldn’t have to worry about whether a store will accept their money.

It’s caring about more than just convenience. It’s caring about low-income folks and houseless folks that have no other option to pay with but cash.

Image courtesy of C/O Avery Evans on Unsplash

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