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Hawaii Restaurant Card program ends tonight

The Hawaii Restaurant Card, a debit card issued three months ago to qualified recipients in the state to help boost sales, ends today at 11:59 p.m.

The program, a $75 million state economic stimulus initiative supported by federal coronavirus aid funds, was launched in mid-October, offering qualified Hawaii residents each a $500 prepaid debit card to use at local eateries and restaurants.

As of this morning, a total of $64.1 million of the total Hawaii Restaurant Card funds had been spent.

After 11:59 p.m., any remaining funds on the card will be returned to the state of Hawaii.

“It was a really nice boost,” said Tom Jones of Gyotaku Japanese Restaurant, who estimated his business received a 10% increase in sales, mostly in takeout orders. “We saw a lot of card activity. That incremental sales really helps pay your bills.”

Jones said Gyotaku will offer anyone with the card a 10% discount through March 31.

“For restaurants, we considered it hugely successful,” said Jones, also chairman of the Hawaii Restaurant Association. “Unfortunately, we had restaurants that were still not able to make it. There’s been a lot of closures and that’s really sad … There may be unfortunately more that don’t make it.”

With several more hours remaining, Jones said he hopes cardholders will head out and purchase dinner tonight.

The Hawaii Restaurant Card can be used to purchase food and non-alcoholic beverages at eating establishments, restaurants and fast-food restaurants across the state.

The cards were sent via mail to Hawaii residents who opened an initial unemployment insurance claim on or after March 1 with the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, and who had certified that their job loss was due to the COVID-19 pandemic and received UI benefits during the month of September.

According to Food-a-Go-Go, which is run by the Hawaii Agricultural Foundation, more than 132,000 Hawaii Restaurant Cards had been activated as of last week, with more than 1.3 million transactions.

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