California launches 1st-in-the-nation program to provide free meals for seniors during COVID-19 crisis

California
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Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday announced the launch of a new program that will provide daily meals to qualifying seniors at no cost, while at the same time providing work to jobless restaurant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And the financial cost will be borne largely by the federal government.

The state is partnering with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on the first-in-the nation program, enlisting local restaurants to supply the vulnerable population with three meals a day, seven days a week, according to Newsom. 

“It’s not just about the meals,” he said during his daily coronavirus briefing. “It’s about a human connection, about someone just checking in as they’re delivering those meals and making sure people are OK.”

The program goes into effect immediately.

Those who are eligible will be reimbursed for up to $66 per day: $16 for breakfast, $17 for lunch and $28 for dinner. 

FEMA will pick up 75% of the cost, while California will pay three-quarters of the remaining cost, Newsom said. Local governments will be responsible for the rest.

To qualify, seniors must be at high risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus or have compromised immune systems, and they can have an income of no more than $74,940 for an individual or $101,460 for two. That is 600% of the federal poverty level.

People can find out if they qualify by calling 211 or by visiting the website https://covid19.ca.gov/.

In addition to aiding seniors, the program is meant to support industries that that have been ravaged by the crisis. It will providing an economic boost for struggling local restaurants, allowing them to rehire workers, according to the governor.

Since social distancing and stay-at-home rules went into effect last month, restaurants have been limited to takeout and delivery orders. That forced many to close and others to significantly scale back operations, resulting in many jobless workers.

More than 3 million Californians have filed for unemployment claims since March 12, the governor said Thursday. The state has distributed nearly $4 billion in unemployment benefits in almost the same time period.

The new initiative will also help local governments financially by generating revenue through sales taxes, Newsom noted.

“Now we have the ability to have a locally driven decision-making to start employing workers and get these restaurants reopened, and provide hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of prepared meals every day delivered to our seniors,” he said.

There are about 5.7 million “older Californians,” and an estimated 1.2 million seniors live alone, according the governor.

So in addition to providing food assistance, the state on Friday also announced a new Friendship Line to help seniors stave off loneliness and isolation.

The phone number is 1-888-670-1360.

Those who need emotional support, or anyone who simply wants to check in and get something off their chest, are encouraged to call it.

“We can’t tolerate loneliness. Loneliness is a terrible threat to our health and our community,” said Kim McCoy Wade, the director of California’s Department of Aging.

In announcing the expansion of wellness and outreach efforts, Newsom reminded everyone, even those who feel young and healthy and at are not considered to be at-risk of the virus, to remember and think about loved ones who may be more vulnerable.

“None more precious than our seniors, the folks that raised us, the folks that built our middle class …. we are committed to their health, their safety,” he said.

More resources can be found here.

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