Air conditioners needed as climate change warms Philly

Two years ago, New York distributed tens of thousands of air conditioning units to low-income seniors. But Philadelphia city officials basically said the city couldn’t afford a similar program.

Last year, a Hunting Park nonprofit started a GoFundMe to buy air conditioners for vulnerable neighbors.

The first phase of a new home improvement program through the Philadelphia Energy Authority has installed or plans to install a dozen heat pumps, which are electric and do the job of both a heater and an air conditioner.

Then there’s the federal program called Home Energy Assistance Program for Low-Income People, or LIHEAP. Experts say that nationally, most of the money goes to paying families’ winter heating bills – but some states, like Delawareuse it for summer cooling bills and even air conditioners.

Pennsylvania launched a pilot program this summer with this funding to provide or repair air conditioners, but only for households that have already received LIHEAP or weatherization assistance in the past year. So far, the pilot has supplied or repaired more than 100 cooling units statewide, according to Penny Ickes, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).

But Steve Luxton, director of the Energy Coordinating Agency (ECA), one of two local agencies distributing that funding in Philadelphia, said he’s been slow to secure additional funds from the state. to run the cooling pilot – and the organization hasn’t been able to supply A/C units yet. The other agency, the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation, plans to install about 100 units in eligible households, spokeswoman Jamila Davis said.

City officials have pushed the state to expand energy assistance programs like LIHEAP to cover cooling, city spokesperson Imani Harris said in an emailed statement. She said the city is encouraged by President Joe Biden’s recent announcement of expanded guidance for states using LIHEAP funds, which focus on options such as purchasing efficient air conditioning units and heat pumps, implementing a contact verification system, or maintaining services prevention of cuts during the summer months.

The federal program had a unprecedented level of funding this year, thanks to COVID relief and the Infrastructure Act. But experts say the program is historically underfunded.

Mark Wolfe, director of the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, which represents state officials who distribute LIHEAP funds, said that going forward, the program needs several billion more dollars each year for l cooling assistance.

“The numbers are way too big for GoFundMe,” he said. “It’s way too big for charity. It is a federal problem and the federal government must provide assistance to pay for it.

Historically, Pennsylvania has not used funding through another federal program, the Weatherization Assistance Program, to install air conditioning units except to replace heat pumps, DCED’s Ickes said. But the state is seeking permission to use some of those funds to install air conditioners in homes as a “health and safety” measure — for example, in households with the elderly, children or elderly. people with disabilities or suffering from health problems.

East Germantown resident Felicia Ashley was unaware of any other resource for free air conditioners other than the self-help group she contacted. She thinks there should be more.

Felicia Ashley on her porch in the East Germantown section of Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“Because there are a lot of old people here who can’t afford air conditioners,” she said. “A lot of old people here, and sick people like me, who have bills and rent.”

This summer, dozens of residents like Ashley asked Funds Y’all for an air conditioner — and organizers are scrambling to raise enough money.

They have stopped taking new applications for the time being and say it could take months to cross everyone off their list.

Karl M. Bailey