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Lack of U.S. coin availability represents yet another consequence of the coronavirus pandemic

The health scare has interrupted the normal circulation of coinage and lead to availability shortages.

Updated: July 27, 2020 - 10:21pm

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While the massive toll of the coronavirus crisis and related government restrictions has dealt a significant blow to the nation's previously flourishing economy, one of the consequences that companies must now navigate is a shortage of available U.S. coins.

There is not an actual dearth of existing U.S. coinage — the problem is actually "a dramatic deceleration of coin circulation through the supply chain," according to a June 30 announcement by the Federal Reserve that it would convene a "limited-scope, limited duration" U.S. Coin Task Force to alleviate the problem.

"While there is adequate coin in the economy, the slowed pace of circulation has meant that sufficient quantities of coin are not readily available where needed," the announcement explained. "With establishments like retail shops, bank branches, transit authorities and laundromats closed, the typical places where coin enters our society have slowed or even stopped the normal circulation of coin."

In announcing on June 11 a "strategic allocation of coin inventories," the Fed reported: "In the past few months, coin deposits from depository institutions to the Federal Reserve have declined significantly and the U.S. Mint’s production of coin also decreased due to measures put in place to protect its employees."

The U.S. Mint recently issued a press release requesting that people put their change back into circulation. The Mint said that it has been pumping out coins "at full production capacity since mid-June."

A Wisconsin financial institution said that it had massive success after it "launched a coin buy-back program to assist local businesses being affected by the United States coin shortage." Community State Bank has suspended the program in which it offered to pay people more than their coins were worth. Under the program the bank offered to add an extra $5 for every $100 of coins exchanged, for a maximum bonus of $500.

"Our goal was to generate enough coin inventory to help our local businesses," President and CEO Scott Huedepohl said. "We’ve met and far exceeded our goals.” 

Walmart has reportedly requested that customers pay using a card or pay with exact change if they can when they're using cash.

"Like most retailers, we're experiencing the [effects] of the nationwide coin shortage," a spokesperson for the company wrote to NPR, according to a story published on July 16. "We're asking customers to pay with card or use correct change when possible if they need to pay with cash. Cash is welcome at all of our stores."