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Colorado’s Coin Shortage: King Soopers and Others are Penniless Right Now

Customers aren't spending coins right now. We spoke with the U.S. Mint in Denver to find out what's actually going on.

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The pandemic seems to have impacted nearly every industry, including the coin business. As people remain inside their homes not spending their loose change, businesses are left searching for pennies and other small, legal tender.

When businesses across the country began to reopen in June, banks were receiving more orders for coins. This, paired with a decline in coin deposits to the Federal Reserve and a drop in production at the U.S. Mint, resulted in “coin inventory being reduced to below normal levels,” according to a statement from the Federal Reserve, which has set up a task force to address the issue.

Many businesses, including Qdoba, Best Buy, airport kiosks, and King Soopers, are now asking customers to pay with exact change or use a credit card. At King Soopers, coin change is still available at self-checkout lanes. But for shoppers checking out with a cashier, there are two options: donate the pocket change to the Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation—a charity working to fight hunger and food waste—or add it to their loyalty card to be used in the future, according to a statement from parent company Kroger.

Photo by Cassidy Ritter

The good news is that there’s something you can do to help, according Jennifer DeBroekert, chief of public affairs at the Denver Mint.

“The easiest thing the public can do is to gather up that spare change and spend it,” she says. “We know you have it in your houses and in jars and piggy bank. So we want you to use those coins. … When you are out shopping, we’re asking that you use exact change or deposit it at your local bank. Every cent helps.”

In addition to urging shoppers to spend their coins, the U.S. Mint increased production in mid-June after having reduced operations during the early stages of COVID-19. During a typical year, the U.S. Mint produces a billion coins each month, according to DeBroekert, but now it’s on track to make 1.65 billion coins each month for the rest of the year, with half of production taking place on West Colfax on Denver—at the oldest continually operating U.S. Mint facility in the country.

“We are now operating at full capacity 24 hours a day, five days a week,” she says. “And we’re currently producing over 43 million coins a day—and that’s at the Denver Mint.”

Producing more coins will help but may not solve the problem. Newly minted coins only account for 17 percent of the coins in circulation, DeBroekert says. The remaining coins in circulation come from third-party coin processors and businesses.

“Simply put, there are enough coins in the economy,” she says. “But the slow pace of circulation has meant that sufficient quantities of coins are not readily available where needed.”

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