Approximately 116,000 residents in Hawaii who have applied for unemployment insurance are expected to receive a $ 500 prepaid debit card starting Friday, which they can spend at local restaurants, bakeries, and catering outlets.
The debit cards will be issued as part of the Hawaii Restaurant Card Program to help both local residents and businesses grappling with the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday at the Highway Inn restaurant in Kakaako, Governor David Ige said the program’s goal was three-fold: to bring customers to the hardest-hit restaurant industry; Promoting economic activity across the local food supply chain, including farmers, fishermen, ranchers, producers and distributors; and direct support to unemployed residents affected by COVID-19.
The program is a $ 75 million economic relief initiative made possible by federal CARES law as a private partnership and administered by the state Department of Economics, Economic Development and Tourism.
“We wanted to create a program that would help as many people as possible,” said Ige. He found that the debit cards did not affect the eligibility or status of SNAP Food Aid and Medicaid recipients.
Residents who are eligible for the restaurant card include people who applied for and received unemployment insurance benefits in September. In addition to the 116,000 qualified recipients, Ige plans to send an additional 30,000 cards to recipients of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program who received benefits in September.
The program runs from Friday until 11:59 p.m., December 15th. Qualified recipients can use the card at local facilities that accept MasterCard debit cards to purchase groceries and soft drinks. Ige estimated the program will pump more than $ 1.2 million a day into the local economy over the 60 days.
Unused funds from the restaurant card program will be returned to the state and used for other CARES Act-eligible programs.
“This card comes at a critical time and will help save our local businesses,” said Sherry Menor-McNamara, President and CEO of the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce. “It will help save our local jobs and support our economy in a much-needed time.”
Monica Toguchi Ryan, owner of the Highway Inn, said the restaurant card initiative “is exactly what our restaurants need right now.”
“The catering industry has suffered so much from this pandemic. The restaurants have not received any government relief since the spring and are having problems paying their expenses. Some restaurants have closed completely and are unable to pay rent, groceries and staff wages. “
During the press conference, Toguchi said dollars spent in restaurants are also helping local farmers and suppliers. “When you choose to support local restaurants, you’re also investing in our communities and neighborhoods and in all the things that really make Hawaii special.”
The Highway Inn has made changes to increase consumer confidence in its restaurants in Kakaako and Waipahu that are integrating air purification technology into their HVAC systems.
Roy Yamaguchi, owner of 10 restaurants in Hawaii, said he wished it had started sooner. “Better late than never, of course.”
“I’m glad the state is doing this,” he added.
Yamaguchi temporarily closed five restaurants, most of which are located in hotel and vacation areas due to the lack of tourists.
He said he spent thousands of dollars on additional sanitizing and disinfecting products, including UV sanitizing wands and electrostatic sprayers.
“All restaurants and retailers, these establishments are doing the best they can. Ultimately, they don’t want to catch COVID-19 themselves, let alone their employees, ”said Yamaguchi. “They do their best to protect the people who work there, and this in turn helps guests come into contact with viruses of all kinds.
“Ultimately, we’re all in it together. We all need something to smile about and enjoy. “
For more information on the Hawaii Restaurant Card program, visit hawaiirestaurantcard.com/faq.
Correction: Monica Toguchi Ryan is the owner of the Highway Inn. An earlier version of this story did not have her full name.