After drawing the ire of southern Maine restaurant owners for postponing their reopening with less than a week’s notice, Gov. Janet Mills announced on Saturday that the Maine Department of Corrections will offer to purchase food from eateries to help them recoup losses.

While the offer from the state may help some restaurant owners, it is not likely to make up for all the money they spent in preparing for a planned June 1 reopening, said a representative of the state’s hospitality industry association.

“It is a reasonable offer to try to make good on the fact they weren’t given much notice,” said Greg Dugal, director of government affairs for Hospitality Maine. “But people spent a lot of money getting ready to reopen on things besides food, hiring back workers and getting all the safety equipment like sanitizers and masks.”

The offer probably will not help restaurants get all the money they spent on food either, Dugal said. The press release announcing the Department of Corrections purchase offer says that restaurants will be paid prices similar to what the department pays its vendors for the same kind of food. The offer extends to perishable and nonperishable food, but not dairy. Because the department buys in great volume, it most likely pays less for food than what individual restaurants paid, Dugal said.

On Wednesday, Mills announced she would delay the opening of indoor dining at restaurants in three southern Maine counties – Cumberland, York and Androscoggin – because of rising numbers of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.  Restaurants that offer outdoor seating in those counties can still open Monday.

Restaurants all over the state had been planning to reopen on Monday ever since late April, when the state issued a tentative plan for reopening the economy. That plan said that restaurants across the state would likely open June 1, though public gatherings had to be limited to 50 people. Restaurants that offer curbside pickup and takeout have been allowed to remain open during the pandemic.

The announcement Saturday on the governor’s web page said that restaurants need to register as a vendor with the state of Maine to sell food to the Department of Corrections, and includes a link to a registration form. The announcement directs interested restaurants to contact Associate Commissioner Karen Yeaton by Friday at Food purchased will be served to staff and inmates.

“I hope this move will provide some measure of relief to businesses in these counties as we work to protect public health, keep Maine people healthy and alive, and mitigate the spread of this deadly virus so we can safely reopen,” Mills said in the written announcement.

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