In this Thursday, June 18, 2020, file photo, a closed sign hangs in the door of The Market, a long-time restaurant and food store located in Larimer Square, that has closed because of the new coronavirus, in downtown Denver. State governments are pushing for help from Congress to fix budget gaps caused by the coronavirus pandemic and economic shutdowns.

Denver’s smallest, “most vulnerable” businesses and nonprofits are getting some extra protection to help shield them from shutdowns in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Denver City Council approved an agreement with Colorado-based OraLabs Inc., on Monday night for $1.5 million in federal coronavirus relief funds. The emergency dollars will be used to roll out a new citywide personal protective equipment program intended to support recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic by helping ensure the safety of employees, volunteers and customers.

“The devastating economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the subsequent stay-at-home orders and restrictions, has hit our smallest businesses and nonprofits especially hard,” officials from the Denver Office of Economic Development and Opportunity wrote in a summary of the contract agreement.

“Job losses and revenue loss continue to plague our local small business and nonprofit sectors even though organizations of all sizes are re-opening and trying to normalize operations with a reduced customer base," DEDO officials stated. "Larger firms with reserve funds and access to credit are faring somewhat better, although the future of many small businesses and nonprofits in Denver remains very much in doubt.”

With cases of COVID-19 back on the rise since mid-June, vulnerable businesses are once again being hard hit with unanticipated expenses, such as providing their staff and customers with face masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.

“This program cannot save these small organizations outright, but hopes to support their still-tenuous operations, and assist them as they struggle to regain competitiveness or deliver services at a time when every dollar counts,” DEDO officials wrote.

Each entity that registers for the program will be eligible to receive a free PPE kit, each worth about $355, that will include four 64-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer; 40 1-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer; one gallon of surface disinfectant; 200 pairs of gloves; a hundred surgical masks; one non-contact thermometer and 10 face shields.

DEDO expects to provide more than 4,000 kits to underserved businesses and nonprofits.

The registration process, which will soon be live at denvergov.org, was made “intentionally simple,” requiring only a confirmation that the organization is in Denver, has been in operation before March 1 and employs fewer than 25 people.

The program will be promoted in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, and needs will be met on a first-come, first-served basis, according to DEDO spokesperson Jazmin Harper. Entities cannot legally be prioritized based on race, she said.

The initiative stems from Denver’s Economic Relief and Recovery Council and was developed by DEDO “due to the unanticipated receipt of federal coronavirus relief funds, the urgency of continuing to need PPE supplies, and the economic effects of the ongoing public health crisis which continues to devastate the operations of local businesses and nonprofits,” DEDO officials wrote.

Denver’s allocation of $1.5M for the project includes $10,000 for public educational materials around the new program and the “proper and effective use” of PPE.

The remaining $1.49 million is reserved for the contract with OraLabs, which was selected in part because of its location and ability to source products locally. About $1.2 million of those dollars will go directly toward the acquisition of PPE, and the remaining roughly $290,000 will be used for the shipping and handling fee.

OraLabs was also chosen because of its existing partnership with Energize Colorado, a nonprofit providing statewide COVID-19 recovery and support to small businesses, nonprofits and workers. Through that relationship, DEDO officials said, the city “can take advantage of OraLabs infrastructure set up to provide turn-key procurement, packaging, and shipping services to allow the city to provide PPE in a streamlined and convenient way for the businesses and nonprofits.”

The Denver City Council approved the agreement Monday night in an 11-1 vote, with Councilwoman At Large Debbie Ortega absent.

Councilman Chris Hinds, who represents District 10 and the Capitol Hill neighborhood, voted against the measure because he said the city’s priorities appear to align more with business interests than people most in need, including first responders.

“In general, while I’m supportive of our most vulnerable businesses and nonprofits, I’m also supportive of our most vulnerable people, too,” Hinds said. "I want to make sure that if we have PPE and we have a PPE shortage, that it goes to the people who are putting their lives in harm's way." 

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