The initiative is intended not only to benefit out-of-work individuals, but also restaurants and their supply chains.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us in one way or another, and its crushing blow to the economy has left many out of work. And in the restaurant industry, restrictions on indoor dining have left many establishments fighting to survive. In Hawaii, the state is hoping to address these two problems with one proverbial stone—providing $500 restaurant debit cards to unemployed residents.

The Hawaii Restaurant Card program is mailing $500 prepaid debit cards to around 116,000 Hawaiian workers who have been on unemployment in the previous month, providing the funds as an additional supplemental benefit. The cards can be used only to purchase food and non-alcoholic beverages (along with tips) at restaurants—including fast food spots and other eating establishments—and only in the state of Hawaii as a way to support the local economy. The cards will work from now until December 15—with any unused money going back to the state to spend on other pandemic-related initiatives.

Hawaii restaurant
Credit: LightRocket / Getty Images

Pacific Business News explains that the program is a joint public-private partnership between Hawaii’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism; Chamber of Commerce Hawaii; the Hawaii Restaurant Association; and the Hawaii Agricultural Foundation, funded by $75 million allocated to the state by the CARES Act.

“The goals of this economic stimulus program are threefold: First, it will immediately drive business to the struggling restaurant industry,” Gov. David Ige was quoted as saying during a press conference this week. “Second, it will stimulate economic activity for the state’s entire food supply chain, including local farmers, fishermen, ranchers, producers and distributors. And finally, it will provide direct assistance to unemployed residents who have been negatively impacted by Covid-19.”

Ige reportedly stated that funds could have been sent directly to restaurants, but he “wanted to create a program that would help as many people as possible.” By giving the funds to customers, the money works its way to the entire supply chain instead of simply addressing one link, while not only feeding those who may be short on cash, but also giving them a way to feel normal again.

“According to the UHERO study that evaluated the program, it would nearly double its economic impact for our local businesses,” Hawaii Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Sherry Menor McNamara said, according to Honolulu’s KHON2.

In other pandemic-related news, Hawaii has also loosened it's COVID-19 travel and quarantine restrictions for visitors with negative test results. Read more on