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City still working to get $1M in PPE to businesses

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Four months after the Albuquerque City Council appropriated over $1 million to buy masks and other personal protective equipment for local businesses grappling with COVID-19, the city says it is close to getting the goods to those who need them.

But at least one city councilor says she is frustrated it took this long.

The council on June 29 allocated $1 million to the city’s Economic Development Department to “provide personal protection and other required COVID-19 screening equipment” to businesses with 50 or fewer employees.

That followed a June 15 council vote that appropriated $125,000 to buy PPE for local businesses with five or fewer employees.

Mayor Tim Keller in a news conference earlier this month touted the city’s push to provide masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and even plexiglass dividers to businesses, saying the city should help with the tools they need to keep everyone safe, especially small companies.

“We know a lot of chains, a lot of multinational corporations, we expect them to be able to do this on their own; small businesses don’t have the same resources. That’s what this program is really designed to (provide),” he said.

But the city has yet to distribute the PPE, a lag that City Councilor Brook Bassan said is troubling.

“It’s incredibly disappointing and frustrating that we are not helping the residents in a timely manner to rapidly assist them in one of their greatest times of need,” she said in a statement to the Journal.

The city is distributing the PPE to businesses through a partner network of chambers of commerce and business associations. City officials say they have placed orders for the equipment and expect it to be available to those partners soon.

They say it took four months to reach this point because the city wanted to buy products from local vendors.

“Once the funds were appropriated in June, Economic Development reached out to a few businesses who distributed PPE, but after learning that they were not based in Albuquerque, we decided to go back and do an open (request for quote) process that gave local companies the opportunity to compete for these sizable contracts,” city Economic Development Director Synthia Jaramillo said last week in a statement to the Journal. “That helped us find 10 local businesses to work with and we are finalizing the details to acquire and distribute the PPE later this month.”

City Councilor Klarissa Peña – who introduced the council bill allocating the $125,000 for PPE – said the extra time spent may have boosted the money’s impact. In buying products from local businesses, she said, there is a “double effect” on the economy.

“It was my understanding we were going to try to get it out as soon as possible, but if the delay meant we were also going to help to support our own economy, which is struggling right now, I guess this decision to go that (route) was prudent,” Peña said in a recent interview.

Bassan, however, questioned whether working to benefit several local vendors may have come at the expense of providing more immediate help to many more businesses. She said that businesses have struggled financially for months due to pandemic-related restrictions and losses and that having to purchase PPE likely added to their burden.

“I think the real question is, which businesses would not have benefited from the $1.1 million allocated in June by the city, and are we too late to help some?” she said.

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