Coin shortage hits Central Texas

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – A national coin shortage is now impacting Central Texas. Earlier this month, the Federal Reserve announced that pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters were now in short supply across the country.

In Central Texas, signs can be found at H-E-Bs warning people not to pay with cash and to use debit cards, credit cards and correct change when possible. KXAN has reached out to H-E-B about the decision but hasn’t heard back yet.

How did we get here? According to the Federal Reserve, it began when the US Mint, the Treasury Department bureau responsible for the printing of coins, dialed back production to protect its employees from the coronavirus. Then, many of the locations where coins are dropped off and redistributed to the economy were closed. This includes banks and coin sorting kiosks. Finally, many places only started taking payment with cards and refused cash.

Also affected, Austin’s homeless population. “After the COVID closures, it was kind of scary. People were going hungry,” says Amy Price with Front Steps, the non-profit that manages the ARCH downtown. She says the coin shortage coincides with fewer hand-outs on Austin’s streets, especially in the downtown area.

According to Price, the $1 bill is the most common form of handout, but coins do occur. When coinage is given out, it usually is by people leaving restaurants in the downtown area. These people usually hand over the coins left over after paying for their meal.

Also impacted, service industry workers who rely on tips. These people are likely not seeing the change that helps keep them afloat, according to Price. “If you don’t want to reach out to someone experiencing homelessness with your change, please, please, please help other people stay safe in their housing by tipping more than usual. Because I bet they’re hanging on by the skin of their teeth,” says Price.

Earlier this month, the Federal Reserve announced steps they were taking to help with the coin shortage. The U.S. Mint increased production of coins and the Reserve began to re-distribute coins to banks. In a statement, the Reserve said that “the coin inventory will ideally resolve once the economy opens up more broadly.” With the new surge in COVID-19 cases, we might not see the coin inventory be restored for some time.

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