As temperatures become more dangerous, states are refusing to provide cooling assistance to low-income individuals.

According to an analysis by E&E News, over 30 million low-income households who qualify for federal aid to help with air conditioning expenses have not received any funds from a government initiative intended to safeguard vulnerable individuals from extreme temperatures.

According to experts, the lack of cooling aid being provided to households across the country highlights the inadequacies of U.S. and state policies in addressing the risks of extreme heat. This issue is particularly concerning as extreme heat has been responsible for more deaths in America compared to other weather-related disasters. This is occurring during a summer that has seen an unprecedented number of climate disasters, including the hottest month ever recorded.

The program known as LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) allocates around $4 billion annually to states in order to assist residents with costs related to air conditioning and heating, as well as equipment repairs.

However, in 16 states, including those with high heat vulnerability, not a single household was granted funds for cooling expenses between 2001 and 2021, based on an examination of federal records by E&E News. The Department of Health and Human Services administers the program, but it primarily prioritizes providing aid for heating needs. While all states assist eligible individuals with their winter heating bills, only 24 states covered air conditioning costs in 2021.

Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, stated that the programs have not adapted to the shifting climate. He also noted that not only are costly winters becoming more frequent, but we are also experiencing unprecedented levels of heat.

Due to the rising global temperatures caused by greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, power plants, and industries, there is a significant disparity between the amount of assistance provided for cold and hot weather. From 2001 to 2021, an average of 5.3 million households in the U.S. received heating assistance each year, while only 635,000 households received cooling assistance on average.

John Balbus, the director of the HHS Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, emphasized the importance of larger budgets in order to increase the allocation of federal funds towards cooling efforts.

Balbus expressed concern in August that if there are no changes to the pot, there could potentially be trouble. He also stated that he would not suggest reallocating funds from heating to cooling.

A report from the Congressional Research Service indicates.

Wolfe stated that everyone agrees on the importance of heat, but there is not a unanimous agreement on the necessity of cooling. The mindset is shifting from viewing cooling as a luxury to recognizing it as a crucial need.

The distribution of LIHEAP funds is primarily determined by Congress, which tends to prioritize states with higher heating expenses over those with intense heat. However, each state maintains control over their respective funds.

Vermont’s population is less than half of Hawaii’s. However, in 2021, Vermont received almost five times the amount of LIHEAP funds compared to Hawaii, with records showing $53 million versus $11 million.

In 2021, Connecticut, which has a population of 3.6 million, received a total of $177 million. Similarly, Florida, with a population of 22.2 million, received approximately the same amount of $183 million.

Connecticut did not allocate any funds towards cooling assistance, while Florida used over 60% of its LIHEAP budget to assist residents with staying cool.

The formula for funding is based on LIHEAP’s initial purpose as a program to assist with heating costs. According to an unnamed official involved with the program, lawmakers from the southern region, who are predominantly Republican, have not attempted to modify the program because they do not want to be linked to a welfare program.

A representative from the Biden administration mentioned that LIHEAP received a significant amount of funding last year, totaling $6 billion, due in part to Congress approving an additional $2 billion. The spokesperson stated that the administration’s request for fiscal year 2024 is $4.1 billion, which is larger than their requests for 2022 and 2023.

High risk of heat in Illinois with no assistance for cooling.

The high temperatures experienced this summer and the increasing amount of deaths caused by heat have placed added demands on the federal government to broaden LIHEAP, as well as on states to cover cooling expenses.

Eligible households typically receive an average of $400 per year from states to cover heating or cooling expenses. This funding is typically directed towards utility bills or necessary repairs.

Several states in the Northeast and Upper Midwest do not utilize LIHEAP to cover the expenses of cooling, despite facing harshly cold winters.

Illinois and Pennsylvania, which are among the states most vulnerable to extreme heat, allocate little to no LIHEAP funds for cooling purposes.

According to a risk index from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Pennsylvania ranks fourth in susceptibility to heat waves, following behind Missouri, Illinois, and Texas.

From fiscal year 2004 to 2021, Pennsylvania authorities did not utilize any of the $4.6 billion received from LIHEAP to assist individuals in covering their cooling expenses. However, there are indications that this trend may be gradually shifting.

Based on the EPA, low-income families experience extra challenges because they typically reside in less energy-efficient homes that require more expensive cooling.

In June, an older couple living on a fixed budget passed away in their mobile home near Houston due to their air conditioning unit malfunctioning during a period of high temperatures. Sadly, Ramona and Monway Ison from Baytown, Texas were unable to cover the $1,600 cost of repairs. They had hoped to borrow money by using their car as collateral, but needed to wait a few days.

A memorandum from HHS cautioned about the deadly effects of high temperatures and outlined ways in which LIHEAP funding could help safeguard individuals.

According to Meltzer, from the utility affordability coalition, the Biden administration has emphasized the importance of cooling more than previous administrations.

During his presidency, Donald Trump suggested cutting LIHEAP funding annually. However, Congress consistently rejected this proposal and continued to provide regular funding for the program each year.

States usually receive their LIHEAP funds in the autumn, at the beginning of the federal fiscal year. They tend to utilize it promptly, resulting in the allocation being used for heating programs.

A study conducted in 2022 regarding the background of LIHEAP revealed that states with colder climates typically allocate over 70% of their LIHEAP budget during the period of October to March.

According to Metzler, who oversaw Ohio’s LIHEAP-funded weatherization program from 2009 to 2016, state officials are confronted with a difficult decision if they allocate LIHEAP funds for summer cooling in October. It is possible that they may have to refuse assistance to individuals, such as an elderly grandmother whose heat has been shut off, which would be a devastating outcome.

“According to Metzler, your goal is to assist the client in addressing the issue at hand. This limits your options significantly.”

Ariel Wittenberg was a contributing reporter.

This report was first published in Climatewire by E&E News.

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