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Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell rolls out food card for disadvantaged families, individuals

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A new city-issued debit card would provide 4,000-plus disadvantaged families and individuals with $500 to spend on groceries and other household necessities in the coming weeks, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced today.

The cards are being mailed to those who are already participating in the city’s Household Hardship Relief Fund, a program that offers them up to $2,000 a month for rent, mortgage, child care and some utilities. They are also being sent to up to 2,000 additional families and individuals who participate in other city-sponsored financial hardship programs.

Approximately $3 million in federal CARES Act funds is being used for the new program, Caldwell said at a press conference held inside Foodland Farms’ Ala Moana Center branch.

The smart cards will be distributed via mail next week that will allow recipients to spend at grocery and convenience stores on Oahu, city officials said.

The funds would need to be spent by Dec. 27. The purchase of alcohol, tobacco, bus passes and gift cards would be prohibited.

Amy Asselbaye, the city’s director of economic revitalization, said that besides those participating in the Household Hardship Relief Fund, the cards are also available to those who are already in “other existing city programs who have demonstrated a COVID harm,” and for which the city has information necessary to determined their eligibility to receive the cards.

Asselbaye advised those receiving the card to hang onto them because additional funds might be made available.

As of last week the city said about $18 million had been distributed through the Household Hardship Relief Fund. That program is also being funded by CARES money.

In all, the city received $387 million in CARES Act funding, nearly all of which has been encumbered if not yet spent. The federal government gave states and cities until the end of the year to spend the money.

In October, the state issued thousands of $500 Hawaii Restaurant Cards to those who had filed for unemployment benefits because they were either laid off or furloughed due to COVID-19. At least $75 million in CARES Act funds were used for that program.

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