HONOLULU (AP) — Restaurant cards for unemployed workers are expected to begin arriving in Hawaii mailboxes Friday, with the cards covering meals plus purchases at bakeries and catering services.
The new Hawaii Restaurant Card Program will benefit state residents who are out of work and businesses struggling with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.
About 116,000 state residents who filed for unemployment insurance benefits are expected to receive the $500 prepaid debit cards.
Democratic Gov. David Ige said the program will provide direct assistance to residents who filed initial unemployment claims beginning March 1 and give them an incentive to visit restaurants and other food service businesses that have been hit by the economic downturn.
The state plans to mail another 30,000 cards to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program recipients who received benefits in September, Ige said.
The program is expected to stimulate economic activity for farmers, fishers, ranchers and others in the state's food supply chain.
The card program, funded by $75 million in federal coronavirus relief money, is a public-private partnership between the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, Hawaii Restaurant Association and the Hawaii Agricultural Foundation.
The cards can only be used for food and nonalcoholic beverage purchases and will not be accepted at grocery or convenience stores or for grab-and-go prepared meals.
Ige estimated the program, which is scheduled to end Dec. 15., will generate more than $1.2 million in economic activity per day over its 60-day period.
Unused funds from the cards will be returned to the state and put toward other programs eligible for federal virus relief.
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.