TENINO, Wash. – George Washington’s face may be on U.S. currency, but never on money quite like this.
“We've created our own,” said Wayne Fournier, mayor of Tenino, Washington.
It’s a town of about 2,000 people, halfway between Seattle and Portland. Using a printing press from the 19th century, Tenino is now printing its own form of currency, made of thin pieces of wood.
“We're growing money on trees here,” Mayor Fournier said. “Literally.”
It’s called “complimentary currency” or “scrip.” Here’s how it works: using $10,000 from the general fund, the city is backing the $25 wooden notes, 400 of them in all, and giving them to town residents in need.
“We issue it out to people that have been affected by the pandemic and qualify financially,” Mayor Fournier said. “They can receive up to $300 a month.”
In turn, people can spend the wooden money, but only in town, at businesses that signed up to participate in the program. Those businesses can then redeem the wooden money back at City Hall for real U.S. dollars.
“I thought it was a really good idea,” said Juan Martinez, of Don Juan’s Mexican Kitchen in Tenino.
The restaurant has been around for eight years, but the pandemic affected its bottom line and that of people in town, too. So far, though, the wooden money is getting around.
“I've had quite a few people come in and, you know, they hadn't gone out to dinner in a while because they were laid off of work,” Martinez said, “and when they got it, had a few people come in and enjoy lunch with their families and were able to pay with the wooden money.”
It’s a currency circulation that the mayor wants to keep going.
“The whole idea is just to keep money bouncing around the community,” he said.
The town has done this before, back in the 1930s, during the Great Depression.
“It was a big hit and it saved the city at the time,” Mayor Fournier said.
It’s an old lifeline they hope will keep working again in a new era.
City leaders say they have been fielding calls from as far away as Spain, New Zealand and Japan from people interested in their wooden money. They say, so far, the U.S. Treasury Department has not contacted them about their wooden money program.