By Virginia F. Mccord and Matthew Chin
WASHINGTON – The federal government began to release $40 billion worth of newly redesigned $20 bills Thursday on what appeared to be a largely unsuspecting public.
“We have not heard anything about them at all,” said an employee at the main Crestar Bank office in Baltimore.
Workers at four other Maryland banks had at least heard of the new bills, which follow similar changes to the $100 bill in 1996 and the $50 bill in 1997 in an effort to thwart counterfeiters.
But no Maryland bank workers contacted Thursday had seen the new $20 yet.
Easton Bank and Trust “just got literature on the new bill this week but we have not seen any yet,” said teller Kim Startt. Workers at Harbor Bank in Riverdale, Westminster Bank and Chevy Chase Bank in Frederick also did not have the new $20 and were not sure when they would get it.
At Soaps, a College Park laundromat, employee Jeff Simmons said the business — and its change machines — would deal with the new bills when they see them.
“We haven’t even discussed it yet,” said Simmons. “We are just going to wait and see if our machine works with the new $20 first.”
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority was prepared for the new bills.
“We have fitted one machine on each of the 100 mezzanines” at Metro subway stations for the new bills, said Leona Agouridis, a spokeswoman for Metro.
Metro hopes to update all 922 farecard machines by May at a cost of $2.8 million, said Agouridis. The machines will still accept the old $20 bills, she said.
Baltimore’s Metro machines do not accept $20 bills, but the Mass Transit Administration has to convert vending machines in the light-rail system to accept the new bill.
“Right now we are in the process of modifying all our machines, we have one machine [converted] at every stop,” said MTA spokesman Frank Fulton.
“But we won’t be seeing them for a while,” Fulton said, in reference to the slow process of the bills making their way into circulation.
There are 78 vending machines at the 31 light-rail stops, including three at the MARC station at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Fulton said the conversions should be done by the week of Oct. 5, at an estimated total cost of $5,000 in labor plus $225 for the conversion software.
The new $20 incorporates several new security features that make the bill harder to reproduce.
On the front, a special color-shifting ink was used on the number in the lower-right corner. When looked at straight on, the number appears green, but when shifted at an angle, it appears black.
As in the recently redesigned $50 and $100 bills, the portrait of Andrew Jackson on the $20 is larger and shifted to the left to allow for a watermark of the portrait on the right.
While similar in style to the old $20 bill, the new bill’s cleaned-up appearance — meant to prevent counterfeiting — may at first appear counterfeit to some.
“It doesn’t look like it, I almost would say it’s a fake,” said Kay Talbert, a Greensboro, N.C., resident visiting Washington Thursday.
“It’s going to be very hard to switch over,” she said after looking at the new design.