Are You Eligible for California Senior Meals Program?

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday said restaurants across California that have been struggling to stay afloat during the coronavirus economic shutdown will soon begin providing millions of subsidized meals to qualifying senior citizens.

He outlined the first-in-the-nation “Restaurants Deliver: Home Meals for Seniors” program but didn’t say when it would start. The state’s official website sign-up said information “will be available soon.” His administration said many of the decisions will be made by local officials.

Here’s some of what’s known:

WHO QUALIFIES?

Those 65 or older or otherwise high-risk because they have the coronavirus; were exposed to the coronavirus as documented by a public health official or medical professional; or have an underlying health condition.

Participants must live alone or with one other eligible adult. They can’t be receiving assistance from other federal nutrition programs and can have income of no more than $74,940 for an individual or $101,460 for two. That is 600% of the federal poverty level.

They must state they are unable to prepare or obtain their own meals.

WHAT WILL BE PROVIDED?

An “unlimited number of meals,” Newsom said: three a day, seven days a week. Restaurants will be reimbursed up to $66 per day: $16 for breakfast, $17 for lunch and $27 for dinner, and an additional $5 for “incidental expenses.”

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But no junk food. The state will set nutritional guidelines, but leave it to local jurisdictions to decide which restaurants qualify. Although it’s not clear how the guidelines will be enforced, Newsom said there will be an emphasis on locally produced produce, independent restaurants and a “diversity of options” and meals.

State guidance is that breakfast be low in sodium and with 100% fruit juices. Lunch and dinner must also must be low salt and include a piece of fresh fruit or vegetable on each dish.

WHO PAYS?

The federal government will reimburse 75% of the cost and location governments will pick up the rest. The state will then reimburse three-quarters of the local cost. Newsom said local governments will benefit from the the sales taxes collected on the meals.

Newsom provided no estimate of an overall cost for the program but said he thought “millions” of the state’s 5.7 million people 65 and older could qualify. If just one million sign up and get all $66 per day the cost would be about $2 billion per month.

Newsom said the program will continue as long as the virus crisis persists.

HOW CAN YOU SIGN UP?

Stay tuned. The state’s website says “as the local programs get established in the next few days, more information will be provided.” Newsom said seniors can call their local 2-1-1 information network call centers if they have one, or go to the state website. The state also plans an outreach program.

Officials say participants can apply with a phone call and provide “self-certification” on the eligibility requirements listed above, similar to the way they can assert that they are eligible for other disaster programs.