Can’t find coins? They’re the latest in short supply amid pandemic

First, it was toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

Those were among the first items to fly off the shelves as COVID-19 took hold, prompting stay-at-home orders and the closure of nonessential businesses. Then came the meat shortage, and a persistent lack of surface wipes.

The latest commodity to come up short? Pocket change — the stuff we carry in pockets and wallets, stash in nightstands, jars and the niches in our cars.

Banks around the U.S. are running low on pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, prompting the Federal Reserve, which supplies banks, to ration scarce supplies.

Coinstar, the nation’s largest chain of coin-sorting kiosks, has 22,000 machines worldwide. The company has seen reduced foot traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Coinstar) Why no coins?

The shortage has been fueled by two factors. The U.S. Mint produced fewer coins than usual this spring as it sought to protect employees from infection. Beyond that, the problem is linked to distribution.

Bank lobbies — where consumers often exchange coins for bills — were mostly shuttered during the peak of the lockdown. They have since reopened, but coin-cashing machines have also seen limited use as virus-wary consumers make fewer trips to the supermarket.

Reduced foot traffic

Coinstar, the nation’s largest chain of coin-sorting kiosks, didn’t lose a step, according to company CEO Jim Gaherity. But he acknowledged transactions have been down.

“During the pandemic, Coinstar kiosks have remained available and fully functional with continued servicing in line with our normal practices based on volume,” Gaherity said. “However, due to decreased retail foot traffic, we have seen lower coin volumes.”

With more than 22,000 machines worldwide, the Bellevue, Washington-based company typically processes some 40 million coins a year.

Gaherity said coin volumes through Coinstar kiosks are growing as lockdowns end. And the company has been making more frequent pickups to help get coins back in circulation.

“We expect to see consumers resume their former level of coin usage and recycling at banks, Coinstar kiosks and daily cash transactions,” he said.

Rounding up and down

Rep. John Rose, R-Tenn. relayed his coin shortage concerns to Fed Chairman Jerome Powell in a recent report to Congress.

“I’m thinking about not only the banks and other retail businesses, but their customers who will be faced with the prospect of having to round up or round down,” Rose said. “In a time when pennies are the difference between profit and loss, it seems to be a bigger concern than the Fed’s announcement indicated it is.”

In a June 11 posting, the Fed said it was working with the Mint to minimize coin supply constraints and maximize production capacity while also encouraging financial institutions to order only the coins they need to meet near‐term demand.

Effective June 15, the Fed said “limits will be reviewed and potentially revised based on national receipt levels, inventories and Mint production.”

Wells Fargo said it is actively managing its coin inventory and working to meet customer needs after the central bank put limitations on coin deliveries to all financial institutions nationwide.

In his message to Congress, Rose said he hopes the problem can be mitigated.

“We don’t want to wake up to headlines of ‘Banks out of money,’ ” he said.

Tags: Business, News, Congress, Sport, Economy, Soccer, Bank, Federal Reserve, Consumers, Wells Fargo, Fed, Rose, Jerome Powell, Bellevue Washington, Coinstar, Top Stories LADN, Top Stories OCR, Top Stories PE, Top Stories IVDB, Top Stories RDF, Top Stories Sun, Top Stories Breeze, Top Stories LBPT, Top Stories WDN, Top Stories SGVT, Top Stories PSN, Jim Gaherity, John Rose R Tenn, Coronavirus, Coronavirus Closures, Coronavirus Economy, Gaherity


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