HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Hawaii Restaurant Card Program gave a significant boost to the local economy but the state says $5 million went unused.
If more federal funds are released, officials say they plan to bring the benefits back with some improvements.
The $500 restaurant debit cards were sent out to those who were getting unemployment benefits. So the program helped people who lost their jobs and the struggling restaurant industry. State officials say the benefits to the economy went well beyond that.
The state sent out more than 148,000 restaurant cards in October that were good at any eatery. Nearly $70 million were used by the time the program ended on Dec. 15. That money went to restaurants that then paid off their suppliers and vendors, creating a chain of transactions that gave an immediate jolt to the economy.
Officials estimate the benefit to the state at more than $151 million.
“So it’s essentially doubling the economic impact, whether it’s taxes generated to the state or money being spent at restaurants, more jobs,” said Sherry Menor-McNamara, Chamber of Commerce Hawaii President and CEO. “So the overall economic output is doubled, which is pretty significant.”
But $5 million were never used.
About $3 million from cards that were never activated and nearly $2 million from unused card balances. The state says some of the cards were inadvertently thrown away or went to the wrong address. The unused money goes to the state’s unemployment fund. If more federal funds are released, the state would like to send another round of restaurant cards.
“Now that we have a template, we can certainly revisit some of the challenges and issues, said Menor-McNamara. “See how we can expand who can get these cards because it’s a card that has helped in so many different ways.”
“Immediately for instance, our servers were getting extra tips,” said Tom Jones of the Hawaii Restaurant Association. “Our cashiers who get tipped were getting extra money. So within days of the card getting implemented, it was starting to have an impact on individuals.”
He owns four restaurants, and gives the program a five-star recommendation. He says another round would help immensely.
“We certainly can use it,” said Jones. “I like the way that this one worked. It was a really creative idea.”