- California Governor Gavin Newsom launched a program Friday called "Restaurants Deliver: Home Meals for Seniors" that, in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will reimburse state restaurants for giving seniors three free nutritious meals a day.
- Restaurants will be reimbursed $16 for breakfast meals, $17 for lunch and up to $28 for dinner. FEMA will fund 75% of the cost of the program, and the rest will be covered by California and local governments, according to Nation's Restaurant News.
- The program is designed to help independent restaurants forced to close amid novel coronavirus restrictions rehire furloughed employees and ramp up operations. Restaurants have not been selected for the program yet, but will be expected to source their ingredients from local farms and suppliers to boost California's economy.
Restaurants Deliver is designed for seniors that are ineligible for other assistance programs, and specifically targets seniors who have contracted COVID-19, been exposed to the virus, are immunosuppressed or whose incomes are no more than 600% of the federal poverty level, or roughly $75,000 per year. These policies still make an estimated 1.2 million of California's 5.7 million seniors eligible for the program, giving state restaurants access to a large swath of customers who may have otherwise been unable to order for delivery.
"There is not going to be a shortage of restaurants that will apply," Jot Condie, president of the California Restaurant Association, said during a press conference Friday. "The supply is there."
Participating restaurants will be selected by county and city officials, who will be responsible for managing the details of the program, according to The Los Angeles Times. Seniors can call California's adult service's line to order food, which will be subject to nutritional guidelines also developed by the state. Food sales will be subject to California sales tax, which could stimulate local economies.
This announcement comes as states like Georgia and Tennessee ease restrictions on social distancing and allow restaurants to reopen their dining rooms. But California's program is uniquely targeted to help independent restaurants, thousands of which were left out of the Paycheck Protection Program's first round of funding and are generally much more vulnerable to closing over social distancing measures than major chains.
The California Restaurant Association estimates that 20% to 30% of the state's restaurants, the majority of which are owned by independent operators, could close permanently "unless there are bold measures taken by the state," Condie said in a March letter to Newsom.
It's unclear if the nutritional requirements would make participating restaurants develop separate menus or how meals are meant to be delivered from business to customer, for example.
But if the program is successful, it could serve as a blueprint for other states that are looking to protect vulnerable restaurants and bolster their economies at the same time. Nationwide, the restaurant industry is predicted to lose roughly $80 billion in revenue by the end of April, and the National Restaurant Association asked Congress last week for a $240 billion recovery fund specifically for U.S. restaurants.