By Clare Duffy, CNN Business

(CNN) — Uncle Sam wants YOU to dig under your couch cushions and unearth your spare change.

No, really.

The United States is in the midst of a nationwide coin shortage brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, making life difficult for banks, retailers and anyone who regularly pays with cash. The US Mint, which is in charge of producing new money to replenish the country’s supply, is working on addressing the issue, and now it’s asking Americans to help out, too.

The Mint is asking people to pay with exact change and to find other ways to return coins they may have lying around to circulation, it said in a press release Thursday.

“We ask that the American public start spending their coins, depositing them, or exchanging them for currency at financial institutions or taking them to a coin redemption kiosk,” the Mint said in the release. “The coin supply problem can be solved with each of us doing our part.”

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell spoke about the coin shortage during a virtual hearing with the House Financial Services Committee last month. He explained that since more people have been staying home, shopping online and avoiding physical currency because of the pandemic, the normal flow of coins through the economy was interrupted.

“The places where you go to give your coins, and get credit at the store and get cash … those have not been working. Stores have been closed,” he said. “The whole system has kind of come to a stop.”

The US Mint also briefly slowed coin production to implement safety measures for workers, though it says it resumed regular production in mid-June.

In response, the Fed convened a US Coin Task Force to work on restoring the coin supply chain. And in the meantime, companies have come with ways to manage — some retailers have warned customers they may not be able to receive change in coins and one bank is even paying people to bring in their spare change.

The shortage could be especially painful for low-income consumers, who are more likely to pay in cash — potentially exacerbating the impact of the coronavirus crisis, which has already hit low-income communities hard. It may also be a burden to some retailers, for which accepting credit and debit card purchases can come with fees that cash transactions don’t.

Third-party coin processors and retail activity account for the majority of coins put in circulation, according to the Mint. Last year for example, those sources accounted for 83% of coins in the supply chain.

“There is an adequate amount of coins in the economy, but the slowed pace of circulation has meant that sufficient quantities of coins are sometimes not readily available where needed,” the Mint said Thursday. “We are asking for your help in improving this coin supply issue.”

The-CNN-Wire
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