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The data shows 23 million Americans live in areas at high risk of extreme heat | Rare Techy

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It was another hot summer for many parts of the country. The intensity and duration of heat waves are reaching record highs, made worse by climate change. But it’s not just the presence of heat that matters; who and where this heat affects matters.

As with floods and other weather events, some people and places are experiencing environmental and economic impacts from heat. Young and older people, especially in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, continue to suffer the effects of heatstroke. Homes with more lawns and less green space tend to burn more. And that excess heat can increase energy costs, as buildings turn on their air to beat unnecessary heat.

Combining data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Energy, and the Census Bureau, this brief highlights the major heat-related problems and costs in in the major urban areas of the country. The results are alarming: 23 million residents live in homes that are subject to extreme heat, high energy costs, and vulnerable homes that are unable to cope with these effects.[i]

With so many extreme days expected to get worse—including very cold days in many regions—this analysis is another reminder of the urgency to adapt to new weather conditions. Therefore, the brief concludes with recommendations for policy makers on designing communities that are more resilient to extreme heat as well as implementing programs that will benefit the most vulnerable. necessary.

Heat is a challenge in many metro areas

Stronger and longer heat waves—referred to as persistent periods of unusually hot or extreme days—are on the rise. And while heat waves vary in intensity and duration across metro areas, hotter summers have been seen across the country.

An analysis of temperature data from the CDC shows that one-fifth of U.S. metro area residents — or about 60 million people — have more than 76 days with a temperature of more than 90 movements per year. Not surprisingly, most of these metro areas are located in the Sun Belt of the country, from Las Vegas to Tucson, Ariz. to Dallas and Houston. But even metro areas farther north, like Kansas City, Mo. and Richmond, Va., are dealing with more heat. Nearly twice as many residents (118 million) experience 26 days over 90 degrees each year, including many southeast metro areas that struggle with high humidity.[ii]

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While 90-degree days are long in many of these areas, it’s important to recognize regional differences in individual markets (ie, areas in the Southwest are accustomed to hot), the reality is that there are more people in it. areas will become hotter, especially as heat waves become more intense and last longer.

The high cost of electricity is a problem, especially for young people and older people who are less expensive

As the number of hot days continues to increase, many people do not have the economic means to withstand the high temperatures. As Brookings’s Carlos Martín explained recently, electricity bills have been paying off for most of America’s most economically vulnerable households—and the 15.5% jump in electricity prices only made the situation worse. this past summer.

On average, American households spend 3% of their income on energy bills—cooling and heating their homes, appliances, and more. But many buildings can consume 6% or more, which the researchers call a “power load.” An analysis of the Department of Energy’s cost data shows that about 10.5 million people living in metro areas fall into this category; more people (about 64 million, about a quarter of the total metro area population in the country) are spending 4% of their income on energy bills. And these figures don’t fully reflect the hardships for residents on the lowest incomes.

The scope of this challenge is broad, affecting both the northern and southern regions. For example, East Stroudsburg, Penn. and Gadsden, Ala. The two metro areas with the most residents struggle with high energy costs, about 39% each.

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Among the large population struggling with high energy pressures, there are specific population groups that face heat problems, including people under 5 or over 60. ( (These groups are specific targets for the Low Energy Home Energy Assistance Program, which will be discussed later.) Tracking individuals by income and age will also be an important part of identifying opportunities. live in danger.

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Our analysis of census tract data shows that nearly 9 million residents under the age of 5 or over 60 live in poverty across all metro areas in the nation—about 12 or % of the population for these two population groups. In some areas, this rate can be 21% or higher, reflecting a high concentration of low-income, vulnerable people.

Twenty-three million metro area residents live in areas that face these challenges at the same time

Any of these three risk factors—temperature, energy costs, and resident age and income—can put people at risk and place an economic and environmental burden on them. metro area. However, the areas that are most at risk (and most in need of support) are areas where all three occur at the same time. By simultaneously examining heat stress, energy stress, and poverty rates among vulnerable populations, we see that metro areas—and the areas within—e very likely.

Nationally, nearly 23 million metro area residents live on papers that fall in the top 40% on each of the three challenges. This means that in these papers, residents spend more than 26 days with temperatures above 90 degrees, and the average household pays more than 4% of their income in electricity prices, and more than 12.7% of the population under 5 or over 60 years of age live in poverty. . More specifically, 1.9 million metro area residents live in the census tracts and fall into the top 20% for all three categories.[iii]

These papers are spread across the country and paint a picture of a country with many areas of vulnerability. And in many of these metro areas, at-risk census tracts contain a significant portion of the entire metro area population. For example, 71% of Sumter, SC residents live in the risk census books, and 52% of Jackson, Tenn. residents.

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Public policies must constantly adapt to new climate conditions

This analysis shows that too many American homes combine vulnerable populations, high energy costs, and high temperatures. To help these people and places adapt to our new climate, there are three responses that policy makers should consider.

To reduce energy cost burdens, state policymakers should continue to expand the Low Energy Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). This program provides grants to vulnerable households to cover energy costs for summer cooling, in addition to assistance with winter heating, electrical problems, and weatherization improvements. LIHEAP is underfunded by Congress, and recent funding additions through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act will not meet the long-term and growing deficit.

Not only is LIHEAP underfunded, there is also poor coordination between federal, state, and local levels. LIHEAP operates as a block funding program, where the Department of Health and Human Services works with states and other local entities (e.g., tribes) to reach those in need. . This distribution system means that the various LIHEAP administration agencies work differently, thus creating inconsistencies and inefficiencies in the program. A 2021 report from the Government Accountability Office stated that the use of consistent electronic data reporting would improve national coordination, ultimately enhance program integrity, and improve more administrative procedures, and expedite the application process. Other researchers show a direct link between housing cost pressures and energy pressures, and they argue for a central organization responsible for housing and energy costs, combining different projects, applications and culture under one roof.

Policymakers can also improve housing in high-risk neighborhoods by improving their physical conditions and revising legal regulations. For example, Carlos Martín of Brookings discussed how the Inflation Reduction Act could help offset the cost of energy and climate upgrades in the nation’s poorest households—a double benefit. to reduce fossil fuel emissions and light energy costs. State and local officials can launch their own programs to improve heat pumps, window upgrades, and other investments for residential and commercial property owners. They can take cues from efforts like the one in Kansas City, Mo., where a local electric utility teamed up with the Salvation Army to provide a variety of upgrades. Similarly, the California Public Utilities Commission is using commercial-grade financing to fund heat pump installation incentives, with a focus on low-income utility customers.

Finally, to protect residents and businesses in areas affected by extreme heat, policymakers need to rethink how they plan and build communities. The lack of tree cover has a significant impact on the heat levels of residents, and unsurprisingly, the areas with the lowest populations are the ones with the fewest trees. Relatedly, the hard materials that cover green spaces in America’s metro areas are more likely to heat up. Recognizing these impacts, places like Los Angeles and Phoenix have taken action by offering tax incentives for installing green roofs and high-albedo corridors (which reflect rather than heat), and allowing plant 1,800 trees along “cold roads.” ” each. In the long term, urban planners and builders should reduce outdoor patterns of vegetation and conserve more land with forests and other ecosystems that can act as carbon sinks.

These are just a few examples of ways to help vulnerable communities as temperatures continue to rise. What ties them together is the realization that policymakers cannot expect past designs to protect against today’s climate. America needs to adapt, because our hot summers aren’t going anywhere.

[i] We combined data from the CDC, the Department of Energy, and the Census Bureau to identify regional and sub-region-specific risks across 380 metropolitan census areas and 60,000 neighborhoods. .

[ii] Although high humidity can increase health risk, we chose the number of days above 90 F as our measure to be consistent with the Department of Health and Human Services’ heat burn. People.

[iii] In these papers, for more than 76 days with temperatures over 90 degrees, the average household pays more than 6% of their income in energy costs, and more than 21.7% of the population under the age of 5 or over 60 lives in poverty.

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