More in Business:
By Mike Hazlip —
Although a new $900 billion stimulus package has been passed by congress, a local stimulus program for restaurants was discontinued on Dec. 31, after a vote by the Citrus Heights City Council last month.
With reluctance and some reservations, the council voted unanimously to end the program aimed at keeping restaurants open by providing meals to seniors, citing delayed reimbursement at the federal level as the cause. The “Great Plates Delivered” program was funded by primarily by FEMA, with local implementation of the program through participating cities, including Citrus Heights.
General Services Department Manager Chris Myers outlined the fiscal obligations for the city in a presentation to the council on Dec. 10. Myers said the city had invested over $2 million in the program, expecting quick reimbursement from FEMA.
The city was spending $80,000 each week among the six participating restaurants, according to Myers. The Great Plates Delivered initiative allowed restaurants to receive up to $66 per-person, per-day for providing three daily meals, including delivery. FEMA provided reimbursement of 75% of the funds, with CalOES providing 18.75% and the remaining 6.25% matched by the city — however the city was required to front the money.
The program provided 97,900 meals since May with about 3,500 meals being delivered each week, according to Myers. In December, there were about 169 people receiving meals with each restaurant serving about 30 individuals three meals each day.
An agenda packet published by the city shows reimbursements submitted to FEMA total more than $1.9 million to date. A backlog of claims because of the recent wildfires, however, meant the city won’t see that money for another year, according to Myers.
“Based upon the current information that we are getting from FEMA, since we already have invoicing in the cue for five months and the backlog that they have with the fire damage in the state of California, we are looking at a good 12 months before full reimbursement for this project,” Myers said. “Since we are floating this upfront and using general fund cash reserves, it just isn’t something we can continue to float in anticipation of being reimbursed within a 12 month period of time.”
Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins said she was disappointed with the federal delay, and expressed concern for local restaurants and the seniors they serve through the program.
“I agree that we cannot continue to fund something for which we were supposed to be reimbursed readily,” Bruins said. “It’s been such a boon to keep some of our restaurants going as well as provide for seniors who do not qualify for other programs.”
In an effort to find some wiggle room to keep the program in force, Councilman Bret Daniels asked if restaurants might be able to wait to receive payment. Vice Mayor Porsche Middleton said it would be unfair to put local businesses in such a position.
Mayor Steve Miller called it a difficult choice, but said his decision was guided by what voters want. Other cities like Roseville also reportedly opted to end their participation in the program due to the reimbursement delay.
“This is hard, but a majority of our residents said they don’t want us spending any more money,” Miller told the council, referencing the failure of Measure M. “We’re bleeding money and we need to start making cuts and this is tough.”
Kevin Miles, part owner of R Vida Cantina, told The Sentinel the Great Plates Delivered program kept his new restaurant afloat during a difficult year.
“It allowed us to hire more people, create jobs through it,” Miles said. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from the elderly community and the people we’ve been delivering to. Some of them have actually come in. I’ve seen a lot of their families. It’s almost like we’re family now, I know all their names.”
Miles is thankful for the opportunity, and for the city taking a chance on including a newly opened restaurant in the program. He said he would like to keep delivering meals to seniors, if he had the funds.
Bruins hopes the people of Citrus Heights will help local restaurants now left without the additional income the program provided.
“I don’t see that we have a choice other than to do this.,” she said. “But I just say if this passes council tonight let’s put a plea out to the community to step up your efforts to support these restaurants.”
Thanks for reading The Sentinel. You are either trying to access subscribers-only content or you have reached your limit of 5 free articles per 30 days. Click here to sign in or subscribe.