The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about all kinds of unexpected shortages: toilet paper, meat, and, now, pocket change.

Nationwide, banks are running low on pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters as the coronavirus disrupts the supply chain and the normal circulation of coins. 

“I did not expect it to happen,” said Taylor Smith, vice president of BancorpSouth in Marble Falls. “With this pandemic, there’s been so many things you don’t (expect).”

Businesses that deal with cash are seeing less money coming, in general, and the U.S. Mint is even slowing the production of coinage as it adopts face masks and social distancing rules in the workplace. 

“When they have to slow down making new coin because they’ve got to separate employees and do all the social distancing guidelines, the government’s not making as much (coinage) for us,” Smith said. “Businesses are slowing down and not having as many cash transactions, so they’re not turning that money into the bank, and we’re not sending it to the (Federal Reserve) to spread around. It’s just the supply unexpectedly shrank up.”

For banks, that means rationing the amount of change they give out. Smith says his bank would disburse approximately $5,000-$6,000 per week in coins pre-pandemic. Right now, it disburses up to $1,000 per week, but typically lower than that.

“We have to limit it and know our customers and know which of our customers truly need it, and try to manage that as well as we can,” he said. “Every bank throughout the country is dealing with this. They’re sending it out in not the quantity they’re used to.”

That means rolling coins by hand and redistributing it among banks locally rather than sending it off to the Federal Reserve. BancorpSouth reuses every coin that comes into the bank.

“We’re talking to our customers that may have a bunch of coin saved up and asking them to bring it in to our coin machine, which we then have to go hand roll,” Smith said. “We’re doing everything we can to give the coin to our customers that really need it in a way that’s fair to everybody.”

Hardest hit in the shortage are restaurants, retail shops, and gas stations. The best way to help these businesses, Smith said, is by bringing any change you might have saved up to your bank.

“If anyone has any coins in their house, maybe they’re saving it up for a trip or some other reason, you can help out local businesses by bringing that into your bank,” Smith said. “We’d love to have you come into our bank, and we’ll run it through our coin machine with proper social distancing and masks and all that. “

alex@thepicayune.com 

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