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New program could allow unemployed to eat at restaurants for free

Updated: Sep. 30, 2020 at 10:26 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new program is in the works to help Hawaii’s jobless families and restaurants.

The idea: Those out of work would eat for free and the federal government would pick up the tab.

Hawaii House CARES Funds subcommittee co-chair Jill Tokuda told fellow policymakers earlier this week that the state has nearly $70 million allocated for the “restaurant cash card program.”

“Support that’s going to help individuals who are most impacted right now by COVID-19 due to unemployment, but also businesses – and that’s the restaurant cash card program, $66.6 million,” said the former state senator.

Tokuda told the committee members more details about this program will become public within the next couple of weeks.

Victor Lim, legislative liaison for the Hawaii Restaurant Association, said a pre-loaded debit card would be provided to individuals collecting unemployment.

“As to exactly how much per person or per family will get, I do not have those details. But conceptually, we’re very excited about something this because it’s a win-win situation for all parties involved,” Lim said.

Nearly 80,000 Hawaii residents were out of a job last month and the state’s unemployment rate was at 12.5%. That’s down from the peak of 22% in April, but still far higher than the national average.

“It’s definitely exciting to hear that there’s going to be some kind of support for us,” said Devina Maples, who owns five restaurants on Oahu with her husband.

They opened 60FORE Bar & Grill last month right before the second shutdown when they had to switch to take-out only. Now, they are back open for dine-in and hoping the new cash card program will help.

“We’ve been really struggling lately just trying to juggle the closing, opening. So, to hear that, at least we’re making a step in the right direction,” said Donovan. “I’m not sure how it’s going to work or if it’s going to be a big help to us. All we can do is hope and pray that it does.”

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