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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An early pandemic problem that plagued businesses is back: not enough change to go around.

Why it matters: The pandemic broke America's coin flow. It has repercussions for millions that rely on it for daily transactions.

Driving the news: The Federal Reserve last week began limiting how many quarters and dimes a bank can order. That impacts the number of coins that banks can offer customers (like stores).

  • Of note: The limits are modest compared with those set at the height of the bottleneck last summer, which were eased earlier this year.

What's going on: Banks are ramping up coin orders. But how much the Fed has to offer is "below normal levels." Coin deposits have been falling for months.

  • Why do banks want more coins? The latest stimulus checks and the economic reopening could jolt customer needs. Plus, there's a regular uptick in demand this time of year, per a Fed spokesperson.

Flashback: When people locked down en masse, change stopped flowing as more opted for digital payments. That habit may be sticking.

  • Normally, for every 10 coins the Fed pushes out to banks, as many as eight end up back there — and the cycle continues.
  • But only half that number were coming back during the pandemic, says Hannah Walker, who heads up political affairs at the Food Industry Association.

Where it stands: "What we don't know is have spending habits changed such that maybe there are coin orders in excess of what they need to be?" says Chris Hill, CFO of Bankers’ Bank of the West.

  • Walker and Hill are part of the U.S. Coin Task Force — a group spurred by the pandemic. (Yes, they are meeting again.)

What to watch: Pushes to get spare change moving.

  • It's happening in Wisconsin: North Shore Bank on Monday started offering free coin-to-cash exchanges, so it can "put those coins back into circulation," says Craig Witz, vice president of branch banking.

Go deeper

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations are "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more power outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.

Updated 3 hours ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand.

3 hours ago - World

North Korea launches 4th suspected missile test this month

A news broadcast in Seoul, South Korea, of an apparent North Korean missile test on Monday morning local time. Photo: Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea's military fired "two suspected short-range ballistic missiles" eastward from Pyongyang on Monday morning local time, per South Korean and Japanese officials.

Why it matters: The fourth such launch since Jan. 5 comes days after North Korea's military warned of "stronger" action if the U.S. moved to have more sanctions imposed on the country.