New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer wants City Hall to begin setting aside funds—and stockpiling fans and air conditioners—to help vulnerable residents ahead of the sweltering summer months. He made the request in a letter sent Thursday to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has already announced that public pools will be closed this summer. There is currently no plan to open city beaches either.
According to the city Department of Health’s website, more than 80 percent of heat stroke deaths in the city in recent years involved victims who were exposed to heat in homes without air conditioning. Stringer warned that the population most at risk of suffering illness or death when the mercury soars overlaps with those vulnerable to the most dire outcomes of Covid-19.
“A long, hot summer, combined with the prospect of shelter at home orders being extended indefinitely as a result of COVID-19, could effectively strand many low income New Yorkers in sweltering apartments and pose a real risk to those vulnerable to the heat, such as seniors or those with pre-existing conditions,” Stinger wrote.
While illnesses from heat have been long standing challenges in the city, one of the ways the city has sought to address the problem in the past is through cooling centers. Stringer warned that encouraging groups of seniors to congregate indoors may be inappropriate, if not “dangerous.”
Stringer is urging the city to add more money to the existing cooling assistance benefits program, which is funded by the federal government and administered by the city’s Human Resources Administration. The program allows people who meet specific income requirements with medical conditions to apply for money to purchase air conditioners on a first come, first-served basis.
The program is currently budgeted at a combined $26 million for the rest of this fiscal year and next to cover cooling and heating assistance during that time, according to the comptroller's office. Stringer said the city should “backstop” the federal program with its own funds, anticipating a higher demand this summer while people remain indoors. The program is currently only available to people who are citizens or qualified aliens, and Stringer wants people who are undocumented to be able to apply for the support. He did not specify how much money the city should add to the program.
Stringer also suggests the city stockpile air conditioners and fans before they are needed, to get ahead of the kinds of challenges the city has faced when it comes to acquiring personal protective equipment and ventilators during the COVID19 outbreak.
“Handing New Yorkers a check to buy an air conditioner will not do any good if supply chain issues mean that local stores cannot stock them,” Stringer wrote. “By proactively purchasing air conditioners, the City can seek out the most energy efficient options that will help relieve strain on our electricity grid.”
Stringer’s proposal comes at a challenging time for the city’s finances. In the executive budget he presented last week, de Blasio said the city expects revenues to be down more than $7 billion dollars in the coming fiscal year, an amount that budget watchdogs say could soar to close to $10 billion. The city has also slashed more than $6 billion in proposed spending since the preliminary budget proposal in January, including a program that would provide air conditioners for all of the city’s schools by 2021 since those buildings are currently closed.
At his daily COVID19 briefing on Thursday morning, the mayor said the city is working on a plan to help people beat the summer heat but declined to offer any specifics. “Let's see as we get closer, if we think we can do the right kind of cooling center or something like we've done in the past or we need a different kind of solution,” de Blasio said, “and we'll add that question into the plan that will unveil in the next few weeks.”