Lawmakers explore possibility of digital currency to help millions without bank accounts

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers are looking into a form of digital currency to help people without bank accounts or with limited access to bank branches.

It comes as millions of Americans are still waiting for their pandemic stimulus checks more than 70 days after Congress passed the CARES Act.

"Many of those people who needed the help the most were the last to receive it,” Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Massachusetts) said during the hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday.

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Witnesses discussed the digital dollar which would be recognized on smart phones.

The digital money would give people almost instant access to things like stimulus payments or other financial assistance.

"It would enable the sending of COVID relief immediately to the electronic wallets of underbanked populations and expand their ability to access financial services,” said Christopher Giancarlo, Senior Counsel for Willkie Farr and Gallagher.

Experts said this would help underserved populations who often pay fees when cashing checks if they don’t have bank accounts.

"Black communities, brown communities, low-income communities, rural communities,” said Mehrsa Baradaran from the University of California, Irvine School of Law.

Lawmakers cautioned if there is a digital currency, there needs to be transparency with how it’s handled.

"A digital dollar must have the same attributes as physical cash. Anything less would simply create a new intermediate and it could even be one offered by the government in competition with private financial institutions,” Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minnesota) said.

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