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In this July 12, 2020, file photo, a waiter wears a protective face mask and gloves while working at the il bolognese restaurant along Ocean Drive during the coronavirus pandemic, in Miami Beach, Fla. Wages and benefits for U.S. workers rose at the slowest pace in three years in the April-June quarter, a sign that businesses are holding back on pay as well as cutting jobs in the coronavirus recession.

Any businesses and nonprofits in Denver that have been in operation since March 1 and employ 25 or fewer people can now apply online to receive one of roughly 4,000 free personal protective equipment kits, valued at more than $300 each.

The kits will be handed out on a first-come, first-served basis and include one 64-ounce hand sanitizer, 40 1-ounce hand sanitizers, one gallon of surface disinfectant, 100 surgical masks, one non-contact thermometer and 10 face shields.

“We are grateful to be able to provide this support to our small businesses and nonprofits in Denver to help them with keeping their employees, customers and volunteers safe," Eric Hiraga, executive director of Denver Economic Development and Opportunity, said in a statement Monday.

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.

“Attaining PPE was one of the top concerns we heard in surveys and town hall meetings with the small business community,” said Denise Burgess, co-chair of the city’s Economic Relief and Recovery Council, which helped develop the initiative. "In true partnership, we are so happy to see the city take action on this recommendation and provide these PPE kits to support our city’s small businesses and nonprofits.”

The $1.5 million program is funded through federal coronavirus relief funds, with $10,000 allocated for public educational materials around the new program and the “proper and effective use” of PPE and the rest reserved for OraLabs, Inc., 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.

The Denver City Council approved the contract agreement with OraLabs last month 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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