NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 31, 2005

Extreme heat is the biggest killer in the United States, beating out winter storms, extreme cold, floods and other natural disasters. Yet, federal and state policies focus on health risks posed by extreme cold, despite evidence that heat waves pose an equal or greater threat to public health, says Rebecca Smith (Wall Street Journal).

In the 1980s, Congress created the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program after Midwest and Northeast legislators voiced concerns about people freezing to death in their homes; it distributes money to states based on how cold they get and provides laws that prohibit utilities from shutting off electricity during the coldest weather. But there is not a comparable law that protects people during summer's hottest days and rising energy prices means more households are in danger of shutoffs, says Smith.

  • In 2004, New York received $236 million, more than the combined total for California, Texas and nine other Southern and Western states.
  • In Arizona, 6 percent of poor households received help last year, each received $208 on average; in Massachusetts, a quarter of poor households got help, receiving an average of $544.
  • Hawaii received only $2 million.

Overall, the formula fails to capture the population shift to the South and West over the past quarter century, but thanks to ex-Senator Bennett Johnston (D-La.), a supplemental formula was applied to help Southern states, but only if the program's budget surpassed $1.975 billion.

That happened once in 1985 when funding peaked at $2 billion, but for this fiscal year, the budget is estimated at only $1.8 billion. The Northeast-Midwest coalitions in both the House and Senate have been trying to drum up wider support for the program since the late 1990s, but only a handful of legislators from the West and South have asked for more funding, says Smith.

Source: Rebecca Smith, "In Aid for the Poor, Hotter States Get The Cold Shoulder," Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2005.

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