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Coin crunch: Coronavirus distraction or reality

Click here for a video from the U.S. Mint.

Coin circulation is the latest distraction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mahoning Valley consumers may have noticed signs at various retail outlets referring to a coin shortage. According to the U.S. Coin Task Force, the solution may involve breaking a few piggybanks.

The task force noted in July about $48 billion in coins were already in circulation — most of which are sitting dormant inside America’s 128 million households.

The U.S. Mint said the impact of COVID-19 has caused a disruption of supply channels of circulating coinage, and mint officials are asking for consumers’ help.

In normal circumstances, retail transactions and coin recyclers return a significant amount of coins to circulation on a daily basis, said Michael White of the U.S. Mint’s communications office,

Precautions taken to slow the spread of the virus, however, have resulted in reduced retail sales and significantly decreased deposits from third-party coin processors, White said — resulting in increased orders for newly minted coins.

Some local retailers said their banking partners have been limiting the coinage available since the pandemic began. One local bank branch manager said last week he only had $300 of coin on hand with another delivery scheduled in a week.

Third-party coin processors and retail activity account for the majority of coins put into circulation each year, White said.

For example, in 2019, the mint contributed 17 percent of newly-minted circulating coins paid into the supply chain, with the remainder coming from third-party and retail activity.

“Simply put, there is an adequate amount of coins in the economy, but the slowed pace of circulation has meant that sufficient quantities of coins are sometimes not readily available where needed,” White said. “Thus, we are asking for your help in improving this coin supply issue.”

The mint and others are asking consumers to pay for things with exact change and by returning spare change into circulation.

“Until coin circulation patterns return to normal, it may be more difficult for retailers and small businesses to accept cash payments,” White said. “We ask that the American public start spending their coins, depositing them, or exchanging them for currency at financial institutions or taking them to a coin redemption kiosk.”

The local Walmart superstores have coin kiosks near the service centers, but a periodic monitoring of the Bazetta Township location last week revealed little or no activity.

Some other major retailers with outlets in the Mahoning Valley are asking consumers to use credit or debit cards when making purchases. Still others ask their customers to round up their purchases and donate the remainder to the retailer’s favorite charity.

“Like most retailers, we’re experiencing the effects of the nationwide coin shortage,” Walmart spokesperson Avani Dudhia said, noting some self-checkout registers at its stores will allow customers to pay only with a card.

Nick Ruffner, public relations manager for Sheetz, which has a handful of locations in the Mahoning Valley, said its outlets are experiencing significantly fewer coins circulating.

“We are alerting our customers before they purchase items with cash that it is recommended that they use exact change. To help overcome the coin shortage, we are also encouraging customers to order and purchase items through our SHcan-and-Go app or through debit and credit card transactions,” Ruffner said.

Some small local businesses have adjusted to the situation.

Speakeasy Lounge owner Tony Schofer in Warren said his bank is limiting him to just one roll of quarters at a time, but he has been able to supplement the bar / restaurant’s coin supply with change from home.

Nate Barker, owner of West and Main, also downtown, estimated that 80 percent of his customers use cards instead of cash. The restaurant also buys change off the servers at the end of the night.

“It’s been weeks since we’ve needed (coins from the bank),” Barker said.

gvogrin@tribtoday.com

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