26 July 2011

Heated Politics and Summer Heatwave Kill The Vulnerable

Photo by saturnism @ flickr
From Denny: Congress and President Obama have so slashed the federal budget on the backs of the low-income and retired Americans that many are dying in this heatwave. What has happened? 

Federal weather assistance fund broke

About $5 billion from a federal fund is spread around the states every year to help subsidize those households in need of covering their heating and cooling bills. The usual gamesmanship in Washington is now wrecking havoc on the most personal level.

Our federal government generally reserves several hundred million dollars to distribute during weather emergencies. We have certainly seen our fair share of weather emergencies for several years now.

America has the most violent and extreme weather of any nation on the planet. Just this one year we have experienced monster hurricanes, tornados wiping out whole towns, raging floods from the Spring snow melt, fires from drought-striken areas of the country, extreme cold in the winter and now extreme heat this summer.

That emergency weather fund used to be $590 million but recently Congress slashed it by almost two-thirds to only $200 million. Why is that significant? Before the heatwave began the fund went dry, completely empty of assistance monies.

From Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association: “The administration has no tools to use,” The NEADA represents the state administrators of the federally funded energy-assistance program.  "There’s no reason for anyone to become sick or die because of bills."

How can you handle the heat without an air conditioner or assistance?

It's actually cooler here in my state of Louisiana - notorious for its excessive heat and humidity - during this incredible summer heatwave - by about 10 to 15 degrees - than in the majority of the country. Here we are prepared for the heat where almost every home and every car has an air conditioner. We install fans in almost every room to help cut the humidity - which is what makes it so difficult to breathe well or your body to tolerate the heat.

But what can a person do when they don't have an air conditioner? The federal government is supposed to supply air conditioners via specially funded programs. Well, the reality is that the demand far outstrips the supply as twice as many people are applying for what is available.

Then the next step in the travail of the low-income: affording the energy bills of running those air conditioners and large fans if they are lucky enough to own one. Just this week an elderly couple was walking in the 90 degree heat in Ohio to go apply for assistance. They collapsed and had to be rushed to the hospital.  They went looking for the one-time payment of assistance of a mere $175.  Do you really think they could afford a $700 ride in an ambulance and hospital stay or emergency room costs too?

According to Randy Wexler, a physician and professor at the Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio:   "Older and elderly Americans are more likely to take medications that limit their ability to adjust to heat and to live on fixed incomes, which discourages some from keeping cool."

There is just no way to brave the heat if your body is not already adjusted to this kind of weather. 

Don't you think that if Congress can find the money to send Pakistan $40 billion dollars and squander billions of stolen dollars in Afghanistan, they could find enough money for fellow Americans to weather this summer heat?  We have already spent more than $1 trillion on these terrorism wars yet we don't have money for the middle class that is in dire need.

The federal government emergency weather fund is bone dry like the Texas landscape.  Homeowners only qualify for a lottery, and a fund of a mere $1 billion, to help with underemployment or unemployment in paying back mortgage payments.  There are as many as 20 million homes foreclosed upon and mounting.

Why do we have billions of dollars to throw at corrupt third-world countries but no money for our own citizens who have paid into the government with their hard-earned tax dollars?  Something is very wrong with this big picture.

Photo by thrp @ flickr

Those of us who know the heat and humidity understand some basic precautions:

* Don't work outside in the sun and heat of the day. Do your work at night or prioritize it: Is it really that important or can it wait a few weeks until the heat abates to get done?

* Drink water every hour when the temperature gets above 85 degrees and 75 percent humidity.

* Don't wait until you feel thirsty in the heat as it may be too late and you are already suffering heat stroke.

* Drink liquids with vinegar or sour fruits like grapefruit, lemons or blackberries.  These foods all help cool the liver, which, in turn, cools the body.  Eat cucumber which is also cooling.

* Stay out of the sun and get into the shade. You would be surprised how many people avoid the obvious.  Ten minutes in the hot sun can be enough to put you in the hospital.

* If you don't have access to an air conditioner - or can afford to run one - do this: spend as much time in the water as you can, wear loose clothing.

* Sit in a bath tub of water or keep your feet in a pan of water to stay cool for as many hours as you are able.

* If you are outside - or in a hot house - keep a wet towel filled with ice cubes on the back of your neck to keep your brain cool.

* Wear loose clothing in a hot house or hot situation. Don't wear layers - no matter how stylish - as it traps core body heat, creating a dangerous condition.

* To keep your energy bills down, close all curtains and shades during the day to keep the sun from heating up the house.

* Run the air conditioner early in the morning to cool the house, then briefly in 5 to 10 minutes intervals during the afternoon - preferably not more than twice in an hour.

* Run the air conditioner for about 20 minutes to completely cool the house before you go to bed.

* Keep your air conditioner set at about 82 to 85 degrees. When it comes on it generally will click off within 10 minutes, not costing as much.

* Remember, if you run the air conditioner too low it can freeze up or collapse under the demand. A good rule to observe is that an air conditioner generally cannot cool more than a 20 - 25 degree difference inside. Try to maintain about a 10 - 15 degree difference so as to not stress the air conditioner. No matter how good the system is it can fail if you don't keep its limits in mind.

Early this morning when I walked out to greet the early sunrise and drink my first cup of welcome coffee, I could see the crescent moon on its back high up in the dark blue sky.  That heralds cooler weather is coming.  OK, who is ready for the fall weather?  I see everyone has their hands waving in the air out there in virtual land.  Yeah, me too. :)

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