Democrats consider ‘digital dollar’ in coronavirus bailout package

As U.S. lawmakers try to figure out the fine details of their COVID-19 coronavirus stimulus bill, they have one big hurdle to address. Millions of Americans who need funds the most right now are also unbanked, meaning a check in the mail will come will come with its own challenges. Perhaps using some lessons learned from past financial hearings, House Democrats have bandied about the idea of using a digital dollar in the bailout.

In at least one version of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s bill, she proposes a digital dollar. It would be “a balance expressed as a dollar value consisting of digital ledger entries that are recorded as liabilities in the accounts of any Federal Reserve Bank or … an electronic unit of value, redeemable by an eligible financial institution (as determined by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System).”

Although financial institutions in the U.S. are stronger than in other parts of the world, there are still millions in the country who don’t have bank accounts. They don’t have many options if the government mails them a check, and many would have to pay a 3.5% fee or more to cash the check, wasting potential billions of the stimulus package. A digital dollar, or a more independent financial tool like Bitcoin SV (BSV), would remove this hurdle completely.

Pelosi has withdrawn this clause from her latest version of the bill, possibly because implementing this new technology may take some time, something the U.S. doesn’t have a lot of at the moment. “It is worth exploring, testing, and piloting a true USD CBDC [Central Bank Digital Currency] and broader digital infrastructure in order to improve our future capabilities and resiliency, but it is also important that this effort not delay the government from deploying critical emergency funds using existing channels during this crisis,” said Daniel Gorfine, founder of fintech advisory firm Gattaca Horizons and former chief innovation officer at CFTC. “While the crisis underscores the importance of upgrading our financial infrastructure, broadly implementing a CBDC will require time and thoughtful coordination between the government and private sector stakeholders.”

We may also know which lawmaker proposed this idea, and where she got it from. Chairwoman Maxine Waters of the House Financial Services Committee, who may have recommended the digital dollar, still has it in her proposals. She had a summer school’s worth of lessons on digital currency when her House Committee grilled Libra’s David Marcus over Facebook’s plan to rollout a stablecoin. Her driving concern was less about the technology, and more about if Facebook’s history of scandals could be overlooked.

To learn more about central bank digital currencies and some of the design decisions that need to be considered when creating and launching it, read nChain’s CBDC playbook.

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