The Corp will begin accepting cash again this fall, following the passage of the Cashless Retailers Prohibition Act of 2019, a D.C. Council bill that prevents retailers in D.C. from discriminating against cash as a form of payment.
The bill, signed into law by Mayor Bowser on Jan. 14, will be implemented after the mayor declares the city’s COVID-19 public health emergency.
The new law, proposed by former D.C. Councilmember Grosso, is intended to ensure equal access to paid services. “By denying patrons the ability to use cash as a form of payment, businesses are effectively telling lower-income, undocumented and young patrons that they are not welcome in their establishments,” Grosso said.
In an email to the Voice, Corp CEO and President Ryan Farrell (SFS ‘21) confirmed that the Corp, which previously did not accept cash as a form of payment, will comply with the bill.
This reversal comes only three years after the Corp switched to cashless payment in February of 2018, a decision that caused controversy on campus. Students voiced concerns that cashless-only options unfairly discriminated against customers who do not have access to bank accounts or credit cards, such as low-income and undocumented students.
In an interview with the Voice last year, Arisaid Gonzales Porras (COL ’21), president of Hoyas for Immigrant Rights at the time, discussed the challenge the decision posed to undocumented students. “When the Corp changed to all credit cards, that affects undocumented students because people that are fully undocumented can’t even get a bank statement or a bank account,” she said. “That probably never even crossed [the leader of the Corp’s] minds.”
A 2015 Economic Inclusion report revealed that at least 11% of D.C. residents do not have a bank account, including 35% of D.C. households with an annual income less than $15,000. Houseless or recently incarcerated individuals also face large obstacles to obtaining access to bank accounts.
In 2018, the Corp defended the financial and operational motivations behind going cashless, emphasizing that dealing with cash is inefficient and generally less secure.
“I think it’s no secret that The Corp has kind of been struggling financially within the last five to seven years,” Jared D’Sa (COL ‘19), CFO of the Corp during the 2018 transition to cashless payments, said. “This [change] enables us to give back to the community. The year before last, we gave around $80,000 in scholarship and this year we gave around $100,000. A lot of that was due to the money we saved in going cashless.”
Despite the chance that the returning cash policy may affect philanthropy, Farrell maintains that the Corp’s service programs are still a priority. “We remain committed to our mission of ‘Students Serving Students’ and will continue to respond to the needs of our community through philanthropy and service,” Farrell said.
The Corp currently remains open via an online ordering platform at the on-campus café at Grounded, with more locations slated to open as COVID-19 restrictions begin to be lifted.