In the weeks following a deadly heat wave in western North America last summer, staff from the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund (PCEF) project reached out to housing providers, community organizations and tenants to learn how to best prepare for another hot summer event. such as the one that killed more than 100 people in Oregon.
In various groups, workers heard similar requests for cooling equipment to protect the city’s most vulnerable. In the fall, the group convenes the PCEF Heat Response Program and seeks partners to sell equipment and distribute it to the community. Earlier this month, contractors with the project installed a portable air conditioner in a Portland home at no cost — the first of 15,000 expected over the next five years, including to 3,000 units this summer.
Magan Reed, director of communications for the Portland Department of Planning and Sustainability, said that through PCEF, community groups have identified cooling equipment as an emergency response to a problem affecting senior citizens and minorities. .
“So this Heat Recovery Project, from birth to launch, was built in six months – very fast for the government,” he said.
In British Columbia, another heat wave killed 619 people. The coroner’s death review panel found that most of the victims were elderly people in poor health who lived alone and without shelter. The panel recommended, among other things, that the BC government conduct a review before December 1 to issue heating devices as medical equipment for people at high risk. While air conditioners are part of a larger response needed to adapt to larger and more severe weather events, advocates say they are a critical response and urgently needed to protect the most vulnerable.
Stateside, the states in Washington and Oregon – which recorded the least 112 and 116 deaths, respectively – used previous programs and created new programs to manage funds to distribute air conditioners to vulnerable populations. But no such action on cooling equipment has taken place in BC, where the government has promised to review the issue in the coming months.
The coroner’s review team said access to air conditioning was essential. The review found that only 7.4 percent of the 619 people who died had air conditioning in place, and 24.1 percent were athletes who used it.
The 2020 BC Hydro survey also found that 36 per cent of customers in the Lower Mainland – where heat loss is most common – have some form of air conditioning, such as a central air conditioning system, ducted, window treatments , or heat pump. . This compares to 70 per cent of consumers in the Interior South, 33 per cent on Vancouver Island and 25 per cent in northern B.C.
Asked about the panel’s recommendation, a Health Ministry spokesman pointed to comments from Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth earlier this month, when he said his government was committed to look at each of the recommendations carefully and effectively.
The Ministry of Livelihoods and Poverty Alleviation said in a statement that it has another program that, in extraordinary circumstances, British Columbians can for the unspecified income assistance of the fund “add problems “, like buying a fan during a heat wave. Asked how many people had access to this fund for heating equipment last summer or next, a ministry spokesman said in an email that there is no way to track the additional funds affected. weatherproof and cooling equipment.
Daniel Stevens, director of emergency management for the City of Vancouver, said city staff have raised the issue with the government.
Rowan Burdge, provincial director of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, who sat on the coroner’s panel, said the Dec. 1 deadline should be moved up.
“I think we need to quickly follow that and make sure that it’s a good benefit for people this summer, because we’re worried about the heat events that are going to happen as early as December and there’s absolutely no infrastructure in place.” this time to support the people,” he said.
Gabrielle Peters, a member of the Vancouver City Planning Commission, was on the death review panel but withdrew her name from the final report as a criticism. He said a program to provide medical equipment is already in place, and the government could add ventilators as a short-term supply while it explores long-term solutions.
“There are a lot of existing structures that decide not to use it,” he said.
Ontario and Toronto have similar programs that include air conditioning. In Ontario, Ontario Works administrators have the authority to approve, on a case-by-case basis, benefits for those receiving social assistance.
Currently, Toronto Employment and Social Services can provide social assistance recipients with up to $300 for an air conditioning unit or fan every four years – if the recipient has a prescription that says they need a heating device to part of the treatment plan, and without exception it will result in hospitalization or serious illness.
Canadians can also claim up to $1,000 or half of the amount paid for air-conditioning — whichever is less — as medical expenses on their taxes if they have a prescription. in any serious illness, disease or serious illness required. .
Ms. Peters said it is unfair to participate in such programs, as the ability to claim gas on a tax return depends on a person’s ability to purchase in the first place. But the fact that it’s a necessary medical device shows that policymakers recognize that it’s medically necessary or necessary for some, he said.
He added that because of the prescription, some people who need ventilators are not getting them.
“I think the public is learning about the barriers to datingwith the Real-time and for the longest time. almost one million people in England do not have a family doctor. “Whenever we add boards like this, we add openings for discrimination and therefore, unfair access.”
According to 2019 statistics from the US Census Bureau, 79 percent of homes in the Portland metro area have air conditioning, while 44 percent of homes in the Seattle metro area do, because it is the least windy place in the country.
Portland’s heat response program was born out of community action. In 2018, voters approved a citizen ballot measure to create the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund, a city grant program that imposed a 1-per-barrel business license fee on large market, generating tens of millions of dollars per year to invest in projects. to fight climate change, with a focus on low-income residents and ethnic minorities. Grants are awarded by a nine-member committee, which must be approved by the Portland City Council.
Under the PCEF Heat Response Program, air conditioning is essential for people who are low-income, ethnic, elderly or vulnerable, according to Ms. Reed. There is no prescription. PCEF staff also plan to apply for funding to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the project.
“Because the sectors are organized, there are communities that raise their voices and expect to work with the concern of the government and the people who represent them, we really like the ability to implement in these programs and make meaningful changes to make things like this happen. this will not happen in the future,” said Ms. Reed said.
The US also has the Federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), administered by federal social service agencies, which helps low-income families pay their energy bills, covering make energy-related home improvements and make their homes more energy-efficient.
Brian Sarensen, director of the LIHEAP program in Washington, said the program has been used for heating assistance in his state, but that is changing.
“Last year, over 100 people died from heat stress, many of which were vulnerable populations, the elderly, the disabled and those with low incomes. That’s not something that should have happened, “he said. “So we took the idea to the senior leadership, sent a request to [the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] to adjust our plan, and they agreed. So this program year, we have offered air conditioning as part of our energy assistance program for the first time.
To qualify for Washington’s LIHEAP program, a household’s income must be 150 percent of the federal poverty level or less. The lower the income and the greater the stress, the greater the benefit, according to Mr. Sarensen. The program pays most of the costs, from US$100 to US$1,000 per year, directly to the equipment suppliers.
The White House said the funds allocated for the program reached a record US$8.3 billion in fiscal year 2022 – the largest investment in a single year since the program was established in 1981. This includes over US$151-million for Washington and US$93-million for Oregon.
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our BC and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive collection of the news you need to know about the region and its place in matters that about Canada. Sign up today.