New York City to give air conditioners to low-income seniors

Seniors walking in New York City.

Seniors walking in New York City. Shutterstock

Those New Yorkers who are already the most vulnerable to the coronavirus epidemic are also among those most likely to suffer during heat waves. In anticipation of the summer heat, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new $55 million effort on Friday to give air conditioners to all low-income seniors, Curbed New York reports. 

More than 74,000 of the cooling units will be given out starting this month, with 22,000 of the air conditioners going to public housing residents. The city will also help pay the utility bills for 450,000 residents for the summer to offset the increased costs of using air conditioning, while also encouraging the New York State Public Service Commission to also help cover more expenses.

The COVID-19 crisis has put a damper on one of the city’s main strategies to help low-income New Yorkers beat the heat: cooling centers. These are designated buildings with air conditioning that are open to the public, such as senior centers or libraries. But given that shelter-in-place orders remain in effect and that safety measures encourage people to keep at least six feet apart from one another, it would be difficult to rely on this approach come summer. And on average, more than 80% of heat stroke deaths in the city affect people without air conditioning in their home.

Still, public officials and some nonprofits have previously made the case that cooling centers might still be able to operate with safety precautions in the near future. Deanne Criswell, commissioner of the New York City Emergency Management Department, even suggested the city was considering other ways to help New Yorkers cool at alternate locations without congregating – possibly even at hotels. One idea being floated is to use school buildings as cooling centers as well. 

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