HONOLULU — Up to 100,000 Hawaii residents receiving unemployment benefits are expected to receive $500 meal cards for use in restaurants throughout the state.
The money will be distributed through the Restaurant Card Program, which will distribute $75 million in the form of the debit-style cards to people who began receiving unemployment benefits after March 25.
The program, funded by federal coronavirus relief money, is also designed to help restaurants and farmers struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Registration is not required, and those who are eligible should receive cards in the mail over the next few weeks, Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii President Sherry Menor-McNamara said.
The nontransferable cards can only be used in restaurants between Oct. 20 and Dec. 15. The cards will pay the cost of meals, including alcohol, Menor-McNamara said.
Rules for in-restaurant dining vary by county.
Economic boost sought
On Oahu, the state’s most populous island, restaurants can operate at up to 50% capacity, with no more than five people from the same household per table. Diners have to make reservations and provide their contact details.
National Restaurant Association figures indicate 60% of restaurants nationwide will not be able to continue to operate without additional support, Menor-McNamara said.
Every dollar spent at a restaurant means $1.82 for Hawaii’s economy and could save 1,000 restaurant jobs, she said, citing University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization data.
“You can certainly see that this program is a win-win situation for the beneficiaries, restaurants and their employees, and the broader supply chain,” McNamara said.
Denise Hayashi Yamaguchi, executive director of the Hawaii Agricultural Foundation, encouraged island restaurants to develop promotions for people using the cards.
House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti said the state is in need of “creative solutions” like the card program to assist unemployed residents and the restaurant industry.
“The Hawaii Restaurant Card Program targets relief for both communities that have been hurting due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Democrat said in a statement.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.