Washington state town prints own wooden currency for coronavirus relief

The bills bear the Latin phrase “Habemus autem sub potestate,” or "We have it under control"

A small town in Washington state has been printing its own wooden currency to help residents and businesses navigate the economic pressures of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tenino, a town of fewer than 2,000 people about 60 miles southwest of Seattle, began printing wooden $25 banknotes on an old printing press for the first time since 1931 – the wake of the Great Depression.

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“It was kind of an epiphany: Why don’t we do that again?” Mayor Wayne Fournier told Reuters. “It only made sense.”

The Tenino banknotes are about the size and thickness of an index card. The currency is painted green with an image of George Washington and the Latin phrase “Habemus autem sub potestate,” or "We have it under control," printed in cursive.

In an effort to help residents and local merchants alike get through the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the small town has issued wooden currency for residents to spend at local businesses, decades after it created a similar program during the Great Depression. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

In an effort to help residents and local merchants alike get through the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the small town has issued wooden currency for residents to spend at local businesses, decades after it created a similar program during the Great Depression. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The town council in April approved a measure to issue up to $10,000 in available funds, according to the outlet, and received an extra $6,000 in donations toward the wooden bills.

Residents who have documented loss of income due to the pandemic are eligible for up to $300 a month in the wooden currency, the outlet reported.

Nearly all businesses in the town are accepting the local bills, from the gas station to grocery store, although it cannot be used to buy alcohol, tobacco or marijuana, the Associated Press reported.

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Businesses can redeem the $25 notes for real money at city hall at a 1:1 exchange or even sell them on the side, according to reports. Some businesses said that coin collectors offered three times face value for the wooden bills.

Fournier told Reuters that the move to print the currency was a result of the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) failing to help Tenino businesses, which have only a few employees.

“A federal program dumps money from the top and these blue-chip companies steal it all,” Fournier said. “If we do it from the ground up, there’s no stealing. It’s a direct ballast to Main Street.”

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The town has so far issued about $2,500 in wooden bills.