Like many places around the country, Tenino, Washington, has taken a financial hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of writing checks to residents in need, the town is printing its own money on wood in an effort to boost the local economy, CNN reports.
Any Tenino resident living below the poverty line can apply for a wooden currency loan. To qualify, they must prove they lost money as a result of the pandemic, but as town mayor Wayne Fournier told The Hustle, “we’re pretty open to what that means.”
One wooden note is worth $25, and qualified candidates can receive up to 12 of them per month—the equivalent of $300. The dollars look unique, with a retro design and a Latin inscription that roughly translates to “We’ve got this handled.” But the special money serves a larger purpose: The notes are only valid at local businesses, which ensures spenders keep the cash within the local economy instead of giving it to major retailers. When a transaction has been made, business owners can take the currency to City Hall and exchange it for real U.S. currency.
This isn't Tenino's first time enduring economic hardship. By 1931, America had entered the Great Depression, and the town's local Citizens Bank had frozen all accounts. Tenino responded by printing its first run of wooden dollars that year. That original program, which was funded by the local Chamber of Commerce instead of the town government, allowed residents to exchange up to 25 percent of their bank deposits for the wooden notes.
Today the bills from the 1930s are collector's items. The town had that part of its history in mind when it launched its new alternative currency program; the wooden dollars circulating today were even printed using the same newspaper press used to make the wooden money 90 years ago.