COVID-19 has led to outbreaks of coin shortages nationwide. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

COVID-19 has led to outbreaks of coin shortages nationwide. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Relieve the pandemic coin shortage: Bust open the piggy bank

The coronavirus lockdown means less metal is in circulation. Banks and merchants are desperate for change.

EVERETT — Got any spare change?

The coronavirus pandemic has led to outbreaks of coin shortages nationwide.

This isn’t the fake toilet paper scarcity of March. This one’s real.

“It’s hitting every bank and it’s hitting small businesses especially hard,” said Laura Byers of Coastal Community Bank, which has branches in Snohomish and Island counties.

“During the lockdown, obviously, people weren’t out shopping in person and using coin,” she said. “Just as a natural evolution, coin became short because it wasn’t circulating through the system. As things have opened back up it just hasn’t circulated as much.”

This limits the supply for banks to provide stores with change for cash-paying customers. Also, due to employee safety measures, the U.S. Mint produced fewer coins during the early months of the COVID-19 slowdown.

Now you can break open your piggy bank for good cause. Coastal Community Bank’s “Coins for a Cause” drive is collecting coin donations from the public to give to 11 food banks. All donations through Aug. 21 will be matched, plus Coastal is pitching in $500 for each food bank. Change must be rolled. The bank will provide coin wrappers.

“It’s a fun way to get it back into circulation and also do something for the food banks,” Byers said.

A sign of the times at Whidbey Island Bank in Langley. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)

A sign of the times at Whidbey Island Bank in Langley. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)

At The Machine Shop, a retro arcade in Langley, the 85 coin-fed pinball and video games have gone unfed due to its shuttering during the stay-home order.

It’s the bank, not the machines, that’s hungering for quarters these days.

The town’s Whidbey Island Bank branch called Tim Leonard asking him if he’d be kind enough to cash in quarters, the main currency at his arcade. He parted with $1,000 worth.

“I don’t want to give them all up because I need them to reopen the arcade eventually,” Leonard said.

Digging for loose pennies and nickels in the car and between the couch cushions can pay off.

A Virginia Chick-fil-A, short on change, offers customers a $10 bill and a free entree in exchange for $10 in coins. Diners paying in coin rolls get a free taco at a California Taco Bell.

A Walgreens in Texas displayed a sign asking shoppers to avoid using cash or to carry exact change. A Spokane laundry restricted use of the coin machine to customers only after outsiders started hitting it up.

A U.S. Coin Task Force was formed to identify, implement and promote actions to address disruptions in coin circulation, according to the Federal Reserve.

A temporary cap was imposed on the orders for coins with the Federal Reserve to ensure that the current supply is fairly distributed. Since mid-June, the U.S. Mint has been operating at full production capacity. It is on track to mint 1.65 billion coins per month for the remainder of the year.

While banks as a group are the largest purveyors of coins, Coinstar processed about 37 billion coins in 2019.

Coinstar, based in Bellevue, has 22,000 coin-counting kiosks worldwide, mainly at grocery stores.

Jim Gaherity, Coinstar CEO, said by email that kiosks had lower coin volume due to decreased retail foot traffic during the pandemic.

“As lockdowns end, coin transactions and volumes through Coinstar kiosks are growing and, accordingly, we’ve been making more frequent coin pick-ups to help get coins back in circulation.”

Just dump your jars of coins into the green machine. No rolling required. The automated device clatters and clangs as it counts it up, then spits out a receipt.

A fee is charged to exchange coins for paper money, but the full amount is applied to e-gift cards for stores and restaurants. There also are options for charity contributions and to buy Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency that won’t jingle in your pocket.

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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