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Lynch, Pressley push for a digital U.S. dollar

We live in an increasingly cashless society. A year into the pandemic, the number of  businesses that accept only electronic payments doubled, according to data from the digital payment company Square.

But the digital shift in the economy is leaving some people out — mainly those who don't have a bank account, or a credit or debit card to use for payments. Federal estimates suggest that 5.4% of American households don't have a bank account. In Boston, city officials put that number at 10%. Experts say people who are "unbanked" are more likely to be low-income or people of color.

Two members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, Rep. Stephen Lynch and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, are among the co-sponsors of a bill aimed at bridging the financial digital divide through the creation of a digital U.S. dollar. The Electronic Currency and Secure Hardware Act, or ECASH Act, would direct the treasury department to "develop and pilot" an electronic currency.

"ECASH Act would promote financial inclusion and empower these communities so that they don't get left behind in a cashless world," Rep. Pressley said during a Tuesday event at Boston University.

While the technology still has to be finalized, the bill proposes some parameters for an electronic federal currency.

The digital dollars would be loaded on a payment card or cellphone to use in place of cash. The government would not require users to have a bank account to use the currency.

Rep. Lynch, who also attended the Boston University event, emphasized the proposed digital currency would not use blockchain technology or anything that would allow individual payments to be tracked by the federal government or an outside party.

"If we do not maintain a cash equivalent or anonymous method of payment, then by default every transaction we make will be tracked and traced," he said.

The Federal Reserve is working on its own version of a digital currency, known as the Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). However, the central bank would not be able to implement the currency without approval from Congress.

According to the Atlantic Council, a think tank that has been tracking digital currencies, 10 nations have already launched official digital currencies. Those countries include China, Nigeria and The Bahamas.

Related:

Yasmin Amer Twitter Reporter
Yasmin Amer is a business reporter for WBUR.

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