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Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that California had seen the most deaths in 24 hours since the coronavirus outbreak began in the state. (April 23)

AP Domestic

California, in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is launching a new program that will pay restaurant and hospitality workers to cook and deliver meals for at-risk seniors during the COVID-19 crisis. 

The first program of this kind in the nation, called Restaurants Deliver, was announced Friday by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The governor said the new initiative will address both issues of nutrition and isolation felt by more than 1.2 million seniors living alone in the state, while it financially boosts the food sector. 

News of the food-delivery initiative came as the state said nearly a half a million people — 494,173 — have been tested for coronavirus in the state of 40 million. Positive cases rose Friday by 5% to 39,254, with 1,562 deaths, a 6.3% increase over Thursday.

Restaurants have been financially ravaged during the pandemic, and local governments that depend on sales taxes from the industry have also taken a hit.

“We are really addressing three problems at the same time in a very meaningful way,” Newsom said. “This partnership can also support local government because the sales tax can generate revenue and support for the local economy.” 

FEMA will cover 75% of the costs associated with the new program and the state would pay for 75% of the remainder. Counties will only have to undertake a small percentage of the financial burden. 

“Now we have the ability to have locally driven decision-making to begin reemploying workers,” Newsom said. 

The meals will be reimbursed at a rate of $16 for breakfast, $17 for lunch, and $28 for dinner, or a total of $66 a day. Newsom added that the goal is to connect farms to the effort and to ensure the meals provided include local produce and are of high nutritional value. 

An unlimited number of meals will be provided, Newsom said, but there will be eligibility requirements. Low-income older adults who have compromised immune systems and those who are at high risk for COVID-19 or who have already been exposed to coronavirus will be able to apply. Counties will make the final determination and will be coordinating with state and local agencies to do outreach to those who may qualify. 

The governor encouraged all older adults who think they may be eligible to dial 2-1-1, which he called “the perfect point of contact to begin the process of eligibility.” For those who don’t have access to the information line locally, information will also be provided on the California Department of Public Health COVID-19 response site, https://covid19.ca.gov/

“It is not just about the meals. It is about a human connection,” Newsom said, adding that as part of the announcement, the state would also be “expanding significantly our wellness and outreach efforts.”  

“We are working with the department of aging to build on existing support and outreach for Californians,” Newsom said. Officials will be working with students studying aging at Sacramento State University to check-in more regularly on the state’s seniors. Part of that effort includes expanding access to a “Friendship Line” that people can call when they are looking for comfort. 

“You just need someone to talk to? That’s the line to call,” Newsom said, repeating the number: (888) 670 -1360. “Make that phone call if you need a little bit of emotional support or if you want to be able to emote and communicate with someone on the other end of the line.” 

The governor shared that United Airlines reached out to see if the state could use their call-center workers, with so few people inquiring about travel plans amidst global shutdowns. 

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“We thought they would be perfect because of how they are organized and positioned to make wellness calls,” he said, explaining that they would be joined by the aging students and department officials. 

Newsom emphasized that the new program was essential considering that seniors are among the most at-risk of dying from the disease, and will, as a result, be the last to experiencing easing in stay-at-home orders. 

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