Another shortage has creeped into the country — and the Coachella Valley — as the coronavirus continues its death grip on the nation. First, it was toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Then face masks and and Wet Wipes.

Now, U.S. merchants are experiencing an unexpected shortage of coins. The often maligned nickels and pennies are now the new toilet paper.

The Federal Reserve is experiencing a significant coin shortage across the U.S., resulting from fewer coins being exchanged and spent during the Covid-19 pandemic,

Grocery stores, fast food chains and gas stations across the U.S. are asking shoppers to pay with a card or pay with exact change when possible. Such a was the case at a Palm Springs McDonald’s this week when a woman in search of an egg Muffin was greeted with a sign at the drive-up window saying the restaurant was out of change.

Walmart has converted some of its self-checkout registers to accept only plastic. In some locations, Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the U.S., is offering to load change that would normally involve coins onto loyalty cards. As another alternative, customers may donate what they are owed in coins to its Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation, an initiative aimed at eliminating hunger in the U.S.

The Kroger family of stores are:

The Kroger Co. Family of Stores includes: Baker’s, City Market, Dillons, Food 4 Less, Foods Co, Fred Meyer, Fry’s, Gerbes , Harris Teeter, King Soopers, Jay C Food Store, Kroger, Owens Market, Pay-Less Super Markets, QFC, Ralphs, and Smith’s Food and Drug.

The trouble began weeks ago, when the coronavirus pandemic delivered a bizarre double blow to the U.S. supply of quarters, dimes, nickels and even pennies. Social distancing and other safety measures slowed production of coins at the U.S. Mint. But also fewer coins made their way from customers to banks, coin-sorting kiosks and stores’ cash registers as people holed up at home.

“The flow of coins through the economy … kind of stopped,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told lawmakers in June.

That month, the Fed began rationing coins. Soon after, business groups — representing grocers, convenience stores, retailers, gas station operators and others — wrote to Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that the situation was an emergency.

“We were alarmed to hear that the system for distributing coins throughout the country is at the breaking point,” they wrote on June 23, offering a series of suggestions for how to fix it. A week later, the Fed announced it would convene a U.S. Coin Task Force to address the matter.

“Like most retailers, we’re experiencing the [effects] of the nationwide coin shortage,” a Walmart spokesperson wrote to NPR on Thursday. “We’re asking customers to pay with card or use correct change when possible if they need to pay with cash. Cash is welcome at all of our stores.”

A CVS representative said the company is “encouraging customers, if possible, to pay for their purchases using exact cash, credit/debit card or check” and is working with banks to “minimize impact to our customers.”

“Like many retailers and businesses, we are adjusting to the temporary shortage in several ways while still accepting cash,” a Kroger spokesperson said in a statement, outlining various options customers are now offered instead of coin change.

One of those options at Kroger is to round up shoppers’ amounts to donate to charity.

Not all customers are happy about that. One man ordered a $4.45 sandwich but ended up paying $5 for it because she eatery had no change.

In Milwaukee, Community State Bank is willing to pay customers for the bag of coins they forgot about on the shelf — and they will pay interest too.

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  • Out of Change: Cindy Uken