Penny Forward Transcript: Part 2 Notes of Progress, ACB’s Journey in Fighting for Accessible Currency

This week we have connected with the American Council of the Blind, and after hearing about the history of what got us here last episode, this time we learn about the current efforts in what it takes for us to get accessible currency.

 

Select here to listen to the audio podcast and see the show notes…

Penny Forward Podcast: Part 2 Notes of Progress, ACB’s Journey in Fighting for Accessible Currency

 

Transcript

Pre-episode Intro

 

Dan: Think about all of the vending machines that now use paper currency, check-out lines for automatic checkout at grocery stores, I mean there are so many pieces of equipment that now have to read this new accessible currency with a raised tactile feature.

 

Liz: This is the Penny Forward podcast, a show about blind people building bright futures one penny at a time. Welcome back, Everyone. This is part 2 of our collaboration with the American Council of the blind, and discussing the history of accessible currency. I’m Liz Bottner, …

 

Swatha: I’m Swatha Nandhakumar, …

 

Chris: I’m Chris Peterson, …

 

MOe: I’m MOe Carpenter, …

 

Dan: And I’m Dan Spoone.

 

Liz: And if this is the first episode you are listening to, I highly encourage you to listen to the previous episode, which gave the back story on the previous advocacy efforts of accessible currency’ and so that will get you up to speed, to the point at which we will then begin discussing things on today’s episode. And diving right in, tell us about the current state of advocacy efforts around accessible currency, and including in that, any organizations which have possibly signed on to assist ACB in helping with that effort.

 

Swatha: I could start and then Dan can jump in on this. So, back in March of 23, we had a accessible currency rally in front of the treasury building. This kind of, kind of like, had this rally with um, Dan and Liz and MOe, everybody at ACB. Um, that again on just  like calling on the treasury to fulfill their promises in the Whitehouse, to fulfill their promises to make currency accessible. And at the rally, in addition to ACB, we had American  Foundation for the Blind, we also had the  disability and (recording breaks up,) Fund, National disability rights Network, … (recording is choppy and we hear Washington community , and not the rest,) and had partners from the Women on Twenties Movement, and the American … groups. This was kind of, spurred on by their involvement in … was spurred on by the, um, the announcement by the Whitehouse to include Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, and replace Andrew Jackson, which, having that bit of change, um, will trigger the BEP  and treasury to add accessible features on to the bills, because the case kind of hinged on the redesign. Uh, of how they … redesign of currency to add accessible features. … Back in March as well, we had, um, a meeting with the treasury department, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, with Dan, me, Clark, and Eric Bridges, and um, Jeff Lovitky, was there. You know, Eric was our executive director, and Clark is our advocacy director.  We were all there to, um, and they showed us the accessible currency and  what they were looking at as a redesign. Dan, you want to speak a bit more?

 

Dan: Yes. Thank you, Swatha. It truly was a collaborative effort. I think it was really important, it was an just an accessibility rally, but it was an accessible and inclusive currency rally. and as Swatha said, it was wonderful to have the support from Barbara Howard and Women on the Twenty, as well as our other consumer groups in the blind and low vision field. We had, even though they could not participate in person, uh, we had the support of Don Overton in the Blinded Veterans association, as well as Mark Riccobono and the National Federation of the Blind. So, it was great to see kind of everybody come together, and really support accessible currency, and inclusive currency. And the rally itself was quite an experience, to, you know, have a hundred plus people there, in the rain, on a stage, right there at Lafayette Square, across from the Whitehouse and the U.S. treasury building. I have to tell you, uh, Liz, and Chris and MOe, it was the first time I’ve ever actually participated in a protest rally for something like this. So it was exciting. And, and just the announcement, and the preparation for the rally, and some of the work that Swatha Nandhakumar did reaching out to the Whitehouse led to us having a meeting with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, as well as the U.S. treasury, prior to the rally. So we went really direct from this meeting with BEP to the rally. And just walked from the treasury building across the street, and on to the stage to do the rally. So it truly was really an exciting day. And for, for the small group of us there representing the American Council of the Blind, for the first time, we actually got to feel the new ten-dollar bill with the raised tactile features, and the large print contrast on the back side. And that was a pretty exciting moment, I’ve got to tell you, as a blind guy. To actually feel U.S. currency that’s going to go into production in three short years, with the approved raised tactile features that have been signed off. So that, that was pretty exciting. It doesn’t mean we’re there yet, there’s still a lot of work to be done, uh, but it was a wonderful day, it was great to see the collaboration, the social media the outreach that took place, our inclusive efforts led to a conversation with Secretary Minerva, who is the actual treasurer of the United States. It’s her signature that appears on the currency. She is responsible, along with the secretary of the treasury, for oversight of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the Federal Reserve. And so, we were able, through the rally, to have a follow on meeting with Secretary Minerva, with Barbara Howard from Women on the Twenty, and some of our colleagues from the native American Indigenous Peoples Coalition, to talk about accessible currency, and inclusive currency, and it was exciting in that meeting as we went around and did introductions, and Barbara was talking about the history of WOMEN on the Twenty, and we were introducing some of the colleagues from the native American perspective, that she actually stopped the conversation after about ten or twelve minutes and said, “Dan Spoone, I understand you’re the President,” at that point in time I was the President, not quite yet the  Interim Executive Director. “Of the American Council of the Blind. Did you attend the meeting at the department of Treasury with BEP when you met with Director Leonard Olijar and talked about accessible currency?” And I said, “I did, Madam Secretary.” And it was very insightful to me to see the amount of conversation that is going on inside of the Department of Treasury and the Bureau of Engraving and printing about accessible currency. So I believe we do have the attention of the leaders that will truly make a difference and bring accessible currency hopefully to a reality here in 2026.

 

Chris: Let’s take a step back, both for those who maybe are listening to Part 2, and haven’t heard Part 1, but also just to, to highlight this ’cause I think it’s so important. This effort’s been going on for fifty-one years. It can feel to many of us like there has been very little progress  made at all, so can we just talk through, what progress have we made? Where are we at now today? How much has been done?

 

Dan: Sure. Well, I think the way the Bureau, and I’m learning every day, Chris, about the, the workings of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, as is Swatha and many of our, our leaders inside of the American Council of the Blind. What had happened here, with the release of the hundred dollar bill, back in, oh I think it, it originally was supposed to go live in 2008, it might have got delayed till 2010. But when that currency came live, it was the first bill, and by the way, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing got an exemption from the lawsuit to not have to make the hundred dollar bill accessible with a raised tactile feature, but when it came live, it had that first kind of thread that went through it for counterfeit measures. It was kind of this new level of enhanced counterfeit detection, and when that currency went live, they ran into all kinds of production issues. That, when you were actually in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and you see their processes, they create skids of these bills, which are packets of four hundred bills, it’s forty packets of bundles of bills. Right? So, at the end of the day, there’s like six hundred and forty thousand of these bills that are on one pallet. And it weighs tons. It’s, if you can imagine that size of paper just stacked on top of each other. And what they found is, when they stacked their hundred dollar bills, this would have been a unique situation. They were actually tumbling over and falling on their employees because they were off balance. So they realized they had a significant  design flaw that they had to kind of work through, and as part of all that, they were having challenges with counterfeiting. And so they put a whole organization together that consists of representatives from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Federal Reserve, the Secret Service, the Department of Justice, they’re all involved in different aspects of tracking counterfeit currency. And what you have to realize is that the U.S. treasury notes are truly the currency of the world. So there are literally trillions of bills in circulation all around the world for, for U.S. currency. And so, and, and in thirty countries, the only currency, outside of the United States, thirty international currencies do all their business do all their business exclusively in U.S. dollars. They don’t even have their own currency. They use U.S. dollars. And so, it’s really important to get the counterfeiting right. And so, what this caused them to do was really take about an eight to ten year pause where they developed a whole new counterfeit currency prototype, and profile. And that work is what delayed the bills going live from 2020 to 2026. ‘but that work has been done, and the official counterfeit prototype for this next family of U.S. bills, which will be the ten in 26, followed by the fifty in 28, the twenty in 30, 2030, and the five in 2032, all will have this same set of counterfeit protocols that have been approved, they’ve been submitted, uh, by the agency that develops the counterfeit protocols, and in January of this year, those protocols were approved and signed off by Secretary Yellen, the secretary of the treasury. And so this was a huge step forward, to say that we’ve now gotten past the hurdle of counterfeit protocols. That was one of the major stumbling blocks. And the second was really signing off on the approach for the raised tactile features. That design work was being done at the same time by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and that was signed off, through the designed phase, has been totally signed off by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. So we now have the counterfeit protocols in place, we have the raised tactile feature in place, and it’s all done in a way with offsets throughout the bill that allow it to be balanced as it’s stacked and, and, and made, you know,  ready through their huge, mass manufacturing processes. So now, through those processes, and we can take a pause and, and talk a little bit more about that, but we’ve now learned the whole next set of phases that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing have to go through, to get to production by fourth quarter of 2026.

 

Chris: Before we talk about what’s next, do you happen to know, when these currencies go into circulation, how long does it take for existing currency to get taken out of circulation and for us to start seeing these kind of become ubiquitous?

 

Dan: The time for a bill to move into full circulation, and when they say “full circulation,” you can’t control “somebody who has ten-dollar bills in their mattress or in their piggy bank and never pulls them out, right? But, in general, it takes five years. And so, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing gets their money ready to go in, in substantial quantities to do a new introduction of the currency by the Federal Reserve. But it’s truly the Federal Reserve, with the Federal Reserve banks, that implements the currency into the system. But it normally takes five years for a particular currency to go from the first time it’s, uh, introduced into circulation, to be pretty much, you know, 95 plus percent replaced. So, as bills come back into the banks, they get traded out, and replaced with the new style currency. So it takes about five years.

 

MOe: I know you mentioned that they decided not to do the one hundred dollar bill. Do you know the reason for that?

 

Dan: Well they were already, uh, I guess, at this point, far enough past their counterfeit design that they did not want to have to go back and, and redesign the hundred. And they wanted to get it out there because they were experiencing a higher than normal amount of counterfeit activity that was happening around the hundred. As you can imagine, in some levels of illicit type of transactions, the hundred dollar bill is kind of the primary bill of choice. So it was really driven by a need to get better counterfeit surveillance in place.

 

Liz: We’ve talked about the previous and current advocacy efforts around accessible currency. What is next for the advocacy efforts in this area? How do we make sure that the progress we have made does not go away?

 

Dan: Thanks, Liz. I, I really think this is the stage that we’re at right now, and it’s, it’s vigilance, and it’s constant, you know, um, intentional conversations with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Right now, one thing we got is that we would have quarterly meetings, where we would discuss the major milestones, uh, for the implementation of the ten-dollar bill, and then, and then subsequent bills, and that we would kind of get an update, in person, from them each time we kind of hit a, a major milestone. So, he followed through on his word, and we had our first meeting with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in June, June eighth to be precise, of this year, and at that point in time, we not only had Deputy Olijar there, but as well as, we had their chief council, had their book, we had their communications director Teresa Dean Fines was there, as well as their two Bureau deputy directors, and we really talked through those major milestones to get us to production by the end of 2026. And right now, the first of those milestones they’re working to complete is really all the requirements around the counterfeit protocols. So these four hundred and twenty requirements that they have to meet, and I learned a lot here over the last six months on, really how currency treasury notes are produced. And it’s really in a mass production process, as you can imagine, a whole series of machines, looks like a manufacturing plant, and instead of manufacturing widgets, they’re manufacturing bills. You know, one-dollar bills, ten-dollar bills, hundred-dollar bills, and, uh, these pallets, when they’re produced, are truly, they’re six hundred and forty thousand bills on one of these pallets. They’re really amazingly strong and heavy. And, so it’s, it truly is a manufacturing process. And these bills have three layers of printing and embossing with specialized ink, uh, that go through these different steps of printing, and, and it takes a while. You’ll, you’ll go through the first step, and then it will accure, uh, and, uh, be sealed, and, and that will take three or four days to dry, and there’s a whole process they go through where they, the ink can dry without smearing, and all this kind of, you know, uh, manufacturing, uh, protocols. As they get through all of that process, then they, as they layer this in, that is what builds the counterfeit analytics and electronic verification that this is truly an authentic U.S. treasury note. So once they’ve gone through those, so they’re, they’re right now at their third batch of printing for this final test of the requirements for the counterfeit protocols. Their, their belief is this hopefully will be their last small batch of testing. So  once they kind of get through that phase, which they hope will be, uh, in the September October time frame, ACB will be back having another meeting with them, uh, to see about their progress, then they have to go through their next milestone test, which is called a TIQ, which is a technical inspection and quality test. And, in this particular milestone, what they’re really testing is not the bills themselves, but how well the manufacturing equipment is working to detect anomalies. So if something, if there’s not enough ink, if they get off center, if any of those type of things happen, then the system has to notify them that they have an issue. So they can stop the machines, fix the, you know, the anomaly, the bug, the problem, and then start the manufacturing process up again. So they have to test their quality testing, technical quality test, uh, capabilities. And that takes about six months to verify that. That’s more of a software test to make sure the detection’s going properly. Being somebody who grew up here in Central Florida, and, uh, you know, worked, and my family members and many, my friends worked at NASA, when you’re launching rockets, a lot of times, it’s not the part that fails, but the testing piece of hardware that fails. And so, all of it has to be working. Not only the, the manufacturing itself, but the testing of the, of the equipment has to work as well. So once they get through that phase, they’re then ready to do their third milestone phase, which is really doing a large batch run. So now, it’s worked in small batches, the equipment is testing properly, now they really have to run the machines through their paces and make sure they can manufacture at full speed, at full batch runs, and really, they’re stress testing the equipment at that point in time. Once it passed that test, they’re ready to go. THEIR bills are, are behaving properly, the counterfeit protocols are, are being adhered to, the testing is being done properly, and, their equipment is handling mass production load. At this point in time, they now create hundreds of thousands of bills, which they have to give to the bank manufacturing industry. So, you know, what they call BEM’S, or bank equipment manufacturers. So there’s about eight or nine major bank manufacturers, which produce about eighty to ninety percent of all the banking equipment around the world. That’s used. Whether it be ATM’S, uh, major money S— currency money sorting devices, think about all of the vending machines that now use paper currency, check-out lines for automatic checkout at grocery stores, I mean there’s so many pieces of equipment that now have to read this new accessible currency with a raised tactile feature. So the banking industry needs about eighteen months to test all of their banking equipment and make sure they’ve made the right of adjustments to be able to handle the new ten-dollar bill with the raised tactile features, and the new counterfeit protocols, which are being implemented for the first time. So, once the banking industry kind of gives their go ahead that their equipment is good to go, you’re now ready to move into what they would call their final batch run, which is creating enough currency, to answer Chris’s question earlier, to be able to implement, you know, approximately twenty percent of the bills you’re gonna need when you’re fully implemented, that those are ready to go into circulation. And they give the go ahead to the Federal Reserve that says, “Your money, your new bill, your new note, is ready to go,” and it’s now the federal reserve board that makes the decision to implement the new currencies through the Federal banking system. At that same time, a year ahead of that, the Federal Reserve has to be planning for the launch of the new currency, because they’ve got to communicate the fact that this new currency is coming into production, and let the, the public, the worldwide public, know that now there’ll be a new ten-dollar bill with a raised tactile feature that looks different than U.S. currency has looked in the past, and making sure that the public understands, and is ready to accept the new bill. So once that final step has been passed, then the Federal Reserve will give its approval, right now scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2026, to move the ten-dollar bill into circulation. So those are the five, what I call the, kind of the five major steps that we’ve got to pass in order to move forward, and we’ve already passed two major steps, as I said, which was the approval of the counterfeit protocol, and the approve of the design for the raised tactile feature. So, it looks like, hopefully, by this Fall, we’ll pass the next phase, which is the small batch test, so the counterfeit protocols working properly, then we move into those next two phases. I would say the biggest risk, that Jeff Lovitky, our attorney, brings to our attention, and this is where the lawsuit is so important. Because it does not allow the Bureau of Engraving and printing to release a new bill, without it having a raised tactile feature. Will there be push-back from the banking equipment manufacturing industry? Will they say, “Well, we haven’t had enough time to test our equipment.” Or, “We’re not so sure we want to move forward.” They’ve done a lot of work, the banking equipment manufacturing industry is aware that this is coming, and it is the new family of bills that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has based their design on, that will roll out over the next eight years, so their counterfeit protocols are built in to this whole functionality with the raised tactile features that will be rolled out. So it’s all kind of, it’s a package. It’s hard for part of it to go without all of it going. So that’s what gives us hope, but I think a really strong amount of encouragement and hope, but we have to be diligent. You know, politics will be politics, we don’t know where the next, uh, challenge will come from, so we have to stay attentive, we have to stay engaged, and we need to continue to meet on a regular basis with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and making sure they’re, they’re hitting their milestones as we move along.

 

Chris: Are there any details that we didn’t know to ask about, and how can people get involved, if they haven’t been involved already, and, and, would like to be involved at this point?

 

Dan: Well, I think we learn new details every time we meet BEP leadership. It, you know, was very beneficial to understand the manufacturing process, learn their different major milestones that they’re, they’re going through, and what their potential challenges are. Uh, so, the more it’s transparent, and, and, obvious to all of us, I think that allows us to, to remain confident that they’re continuing to do their due diligence to go live, uh, when they say they’re going to go live. And, and  something could happen. I mean, you know, you don’t know. I mean equipment can break down. Things can be … you know. But, if it’s done in a transparent, and inclusive way, then you feel like you’re, it’s not a surprise to you, right? You understand, uh, as you’re going through the process. So I think that’s one important thing, is to just keep that good rhythm going, of, of, of having regular meetings. As individuals, I think obviously, the more we bring attention and awareness to this, which is a roll that we can play as individual consumers, things like this podcast. The more we can get the word out there, then I believe it becomes not a nice thing to have, but a requirement. And, and it,  it kind of settles in as something that’s expected.

 

Swatha: Mhm. Yeah.

 

Dan: And I think that’s where we’ve got to get to. Right, Swatha? Yeah.

 

Swatha: Yeah. I think just like Dan said, we learn things every time we go to, every time we meet them, and just like, what they’ve done, what they’ve tried, how their processes is, how their process has evolved since then. Yeah, so just increased transparency, increased, just, having the ability to scrutinize, or having the ability to like learn about those processes is really helpful in this regard, and also just like, help us help them keep accountable.

 

Chris: And how can people keep tabs on this, and maybe get in touch with either of you if they have questions or concerns?

 

Swatha: Yeah. Absolutely. So, like we will keep updates on this effort, and we will um, make sure members know what’s going on, as well. If people in the community want to learn more on the effort um, they can contact me and my colleague, Clark Rachfal, who’s the director of government affairs, at

advocacy@acb.org

that is our advocacy centered E-mail address, and we hear from people on issues, and we can um, provide information and referral and support on issues. Um, you can also learn more about ACB at

acb.org

or call the office at 202-467-5081 to talk to staff and learn more, learn what’s else going on.

 

Dan: And we’ve also made a commitment that every time we have a meeting with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, we’ll put an article in our Braille Forum, to provide an update there, uh, as well as uh, through our dots and dashes biweekly newsletter, uh, that we send out to all our members and friends, and, and, I think just, again, more and more that we have the conversation, and get the word out there. Uh you know, obviously we, you know, sharing our progress with our partners in the disability field, and, I just think it’s, it’s a matter of, just continuing to build the awareness and the expectation.

 

Swatha: Thanks so much, Guys, for having us. This was a great podcast.

 

Dan: Thank you, Liz, and Chris and MOe, and good luck with Penny Forward, and uh, we’d love to come back and have some future conversations with you. And learn about other areas of accessibility when it comes to, uh, financial independence.

 

Liz: This is the Penny Forward podcast. It is also this week a collaboration with the American Council of the Blind, and their Advocacy Update podcast.  I’m Liz Bottner, …

Swatha: Hello, I’m Swatha Nandhakumar, I am the … specialist at ACB.

 

Chris: I’m Chris Peterson, …

 

MOe: I’m MOe Carpenter, …

 

Dan: And I’m Dan Spoone, American Council of the Blind interim Executive Director.

 

Liz: The Penny Forward podcast is produced by Chris Peterson and Liz Bottner, with assistance from MOe Carpenter. Audio editing and post production is provided by Brynn Lee at

superblink.org

text transcription is provided by Anne Verduin, and music is both composed and performed by Andre Louis. Penny Forward is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help blind people navigate the complicated landscape of personal finance through education, mentoring, and mutual support. We have three tiers of membership options. A guest membership, at no cost, a monthly membership, at nine dollars, ninety-nine cents a month, and a yearly membership, at 99 dollars a year. Benefits of Penny Forward membership include: access to our online courses covering a wide variety of financial related topics, early access to the Penny Forward podcast, weekly members only group chat, one on one financial counseling and coaching, and much more. To learn about these and other Penny Forward offerings and services, please visit our web site at

www.pennyforward.com

For Penny Forward, I’m Liz Bottner. Thanks for listening, and have a great week.

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