City Council delays decision to ban cashless businesses


Daily file photo by Mika Ellison

Ald. Thomas Suffredin (6th) said he wants more information on the number of cashless businesses and the size of the unbanked population in Evanston before he can vote on the ordinance.

Casey He, Assistant City Editor

City Council voted 8-1 to refer a ban on cashless businesses back to the Economic Development Committee and the Equity and Empowerment Commission on Monday. 

The proposed ordinance would make it illegal for Evanston businesses to deny cash payments. Residents would be able to report violations to the city’s call center. Business owners would be liable for a penalty of up to $1,000 for the first violation and up to $1,500 for additional violations. 

City Council voted to introduce the ordinance during their Jan. 9 meeting, and it came before the council for a vote Monday. After heated debate, several councilmembers said the city needs to further study the ordinance’s potential impact and voted to delay the final decision.

Ald. Thomas Suffredin (6th) said he wants more information on the number of cashless businesses and the size of the unbanked population in Evanston before he can vote on the ordinance. 

“It may be a good policy objective, but we don’t know who we’re ailing, who we’re helping and if there’s a better way to do it,” Suffredin said. “I think it’s irresponsible to vote yes until we have that information at least.”

Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak said while the city has no data on how many businesses currently are cashless establishments, the number is increasing. He proposed sending out an email survey to all registered businesses in Evanston to collect this information.

Sue Loellbach, manager of advocacy at Connections for the Homeless, said the majority of the several hundred unhoused people her organization serves, as well as many who requested housing assistance, are unbanked.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said he agrees with the overall objective of the ordinance but is not prepared to vote for it.

“As the representative of the 4th Ward, we’ve got a number of businesses who have expressed serious concern with this ordinance, including small businesses,” Nieuwsma said. 

Nieuwsma said he would vote for the ordinance if it exempts small businesses in a similar manner as in the proposed single-use bag tax. 

Alan Moy, owner of downtown Evanston restaurant Viet Nom Nom, said the cashless ban would add bookkeeping and accounting costs for businesses and increase their security risk, since stores can be targeted for having cash onsite.

He said the city should help people sign up for bank accounts and support local banks instead of enacting the cashless ban.

“That is a really slick solution here at the forefront, not another mandate or procedure that would otherwise inhibit and continue to add cost and measures to business owners,” Moy said.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th), however, said he wants to move forward with the ban. 

He said similar bans have been enacted in municipalities across the country, including one in New York, which is the model for the Evanston ordinance.

“A no vote (on the ban) means that there are seniors, that there are unhoused people, that there are undocumented people who will not be able to access the same goods as other folks simply because they’re unbanked,” Reid said.

Reid was the only councilmember who voted against sending the ordinance back to committee.

Ald. Krissie Harris (2nd) said it is important to hear input from minority communities when considering an ordinance that could have a large impact on them. 

“When dealing in diversity, equity and inclusion, you always are supposed to listen to the people who are telling you what their needs are,” Harris said. “Until we fix a nation which is riddled with hypocrisy (and) issues of disenfranchisement, Evanston can do their part.”

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