MARTINEZ, Calif. - Governor Gavin Newsom announced a new program Friday that would use state and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding to help restaurants begin cooking and delivering meals to home-bound seniors at risk for COVID-19, but who might not be eligible for home meal deliveries under regular nutrition program guidelines.
The idea is to help seniors and get the struggling restaurant industry back in business and preference would be given to independent restaurants.
"For restaurants to start rehiring people or keep people currently employed and start preparing meals, 3 meals a day 7 days a week and have them delivered to seniors," said Gov. Newsom.
Home-style meals are take home only at Vic's Restaurant in Martinez, and Rose Anne Meyers says her family-run business has been struggling.
"Our employees, we have very few at the moment, but the few we do have they need it for their families," said Meyers.
The state and FEMA funds would pay about $66 a day for three meals.
Restaurant owners like the idea, but say they'd need to read the fine print.
"When you deliver food, there's additional cost than just the food. You have the delivery, the gas," said Meyers.
Businesses hungry for details on how to apply, will have to wait though. The state says local jurisdictions will handle the roll-out, with a focus on independent restaurants.
The governor's announcement caught some counties off guard, however, without guidance from the state on the program details and which restaurants qualify or how they'll be selected.
"It definitely could help our budget in some of the senior programs that we've rolled out. So it all depends on what the Governor has laid out in who qualifies for the program," said Tim McGallian, Mayor of Concord.
Mayor McGallian already helped launch a meals program for seniors over 60 who don't qualify for standard nutrition programs. He says the new program could help pick up some of the costs which Concord has been paying.
The public funding however would go to private businesses, whereas the Concord program is keeping the public school districts' food service workers employed with meal deliveries at a much lower cost using Meals on Wheels.
"On a normal basis, our meals cost about $7 per meal. Right now we have a partnership with Mt. Diablo Unified school district and Concord. Those meals are about 2.50 each," said Caitlin Sly, Meals on Wheels Diablo Region's Executive Director.
Sly says there is a huge need and she's glad the Governor is taking action, but hopes non-profits who have been working to meet demand will get some relief soon too.
"We here at Meals on Wheels Diablo Region have increased our home delivered meals program by over 35% since the onset of this outbreak," said Sly.
San Francisco's Shireen McSpadden, Executive Director of the Human Services Department of Disability and Aging Services, says the program could help 40-50,000 seniors in the city who are not eligible for CalFresh or regular home meal programs. Statewide, it could help millions of seniors.
Local officials say keep an eye out for more details in the coming weeks.
They note these are emergency funds tied to the COVID-19 crisis so it likely will only be available while the stay at home orders are in place.