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NY Fed to ship cash to Puerto Rico to meet ‘extraordinary’ demand

A line extends around a Banco Popular branch

A line extends around a Banco Popular branch in San Juan as people are desperate to get cash on Sept. 25, 2017. Credit: TNS / Carolyn Cole

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York will ship extra cash to Puerto Rico to meet high demand caused by the destruction of Hurricane Maria, officials said.

The storm wiped out Puerto Rico’s electrical and communication systems on Sept. 20, reducing bank and ATM access while also making credit and debit card transactions impossible at many businesses. The banks that are open are mostly powered by electrical generators.

“Demand for cash is extraordinarily high right now,” New York Fed officials said in a statement Wednesday. They said they “are actively preparing to meet any sustained elevated currency demand in the future” on Puerto Rico.

Demand “will evolve as depository institutions regain power, armored car services are able to reach branches and ATMs are once again active,” New York Fed officials said. “We have adequate inventory to meet demand from depository institutions on the island.”

The Federal Reserve System usually sends additional bank notes to a region when it experiences a natural disaster. Officials would not say how much cash would be sent, or how soon it would arrive and be distributed to financial institutions on Puerto Rico.

The New York Fed, headquartered in lower Manhattan, serves a territory that encompasses Puerto Rico. The bank’s responsibilities include ensuring that member banks are adequately stocked with cash and that local banking services are available.

Puerto Rico’s largest bank, Banco Popular, said Thursday that about 50 of its 170 branches were open limited hours and more than 120 ATMs were again operating.

“Due to issues with electricity and communications we have experienced problems with our ATMs,” Banco Popular said in a statement via Facebook. “In the meantime, we have a limited amount of ATMs available and we are working tirelessly to re-establish operations in ATMs located in our branches.”

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