Mayor Announces “COVID-19 Heat Wave Plan” To Protect Elderly and Vulnerable New Yorkers

Providing air conditioning units to low-income families and seniors is one of the strategies the City is enacting to help New Yorkers cope with summer heat during the COVID-19 pandemic. Image Credit: CityLand

As temperatures begin to rise and as Summer in NYC officially begins on Saturday, the City is eyeing sports and other large venues to use as cooling centers and is set to spend $55 million on air conditioners for elderly and low-income residents. On June 12, 2020, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an update to the City’s plan to protect vulnerable New Yorkers from excessive indoor heat exposure. Now called the Get Cool NYC program, the update follows an announcement of the Covid-19 Heat Wave Plan on May 15, 2020, to outline how the City will keep New Yorkers cool during the coming summer months in the wake of Covid-19 shelter-in-place and social distancing requirements. 

The original development of a cooling plan followed a letter by Comptroller Scott Stringer dated April 24, 2020, in which he urged the mayor to commit City funds to supplement a federal Cooling Assistance Benefit as part of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LI-HEAP). Through this program, only low-income families who can document an illness exacerbated by heat can receive up to $800 per household to purchase an air conditioner or fan, with limited funds distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. The additional funding requested by Stringer would ensure that more people have access to air conditioners, including undocumented persons who would otherwise be ineligible under the federal program alone. According to Comptroller Stringer’s letter, more than three-quarters of heatstroke deaths in recent years involved people who lived in homes without air conditioners. With the City’s traditional cooling-off places, such as pools and beaches, unanticipated to open this summer, modified cooling centers, and air conditioners, which would allow the elderly and vulnerable to shelter in place, appear to be the City’s best solution to the problem.

Cooling Centers

Cooling centers are air-conditioned spaces such as senior centers, community centers, public libraries, and other public facilities that provide refuge from the heat during a heat emergency. According to the mayor’s announcement, the City is in the process of “identifying facilities that can be used as key cooling centers in high-risk communities, planning appropriate social distancing and providing personal protective equipment (PPE).” The announcement did not specify if and how existing cooling centers would operate, and the City’s “Cooling Center Finder” website is currently inactive. As part of the Heat Wave Plan, non-traditional cooling centers in alternative sites, such as sports venues and auditoriums, are under consideration. The plan assured that special non-congregate cooling centers and transportation would be made available for vulnerable New Yorkers during extreme heatwaves. However, no additional information on how to find these resources was provided.

City agencies, including the NYC Parks Department and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), will also provide some relief. The Parks Department is mapping spray showers and income inequality data to determine the location of the showers and plans to use misting equipment in sitting areas during extreme heat events. DEP is creating a plan for scheduled hydrant openings to minimize strain on the water system while ensuring fair access. Meal packages delivered by GetFood meal program for vulnerable New Yorkers is set to include hydrating beverages.

Air Conditioners for Low-Income Seniors

The Heat Wave Plan primarily focuses on the creation of a $55 million program, through which the City will provide over 74,000 air conditioners to those who are 60 years old or older and have income below 60 percent of the state median income and do not have air conditioning at home. Department for the Aging, NYCHA, Human Resources Administration, the Department for Housing Preservation and Development, and City case managers will identify and contact the income-eligible seniors, with approximately 22,000 of the air conditioners expected to go to NYCHA residents. The funding is comprised of $35 million from the City and $10 million from NYCHA. New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has committed an additional $20 million to the program.

As of June 12, 2020, the City has installed 4,500 air conditioners, with over 1,900 in NYCHA buildings. After reaching out to over 1 80,000 low-income seniors, over 25,000 have requested air conditioners. According to the City, during the first few weeks of this program, eight times as many air conditioners have been installed in the apartments of low-income seniors than all of the installations last year under the Home Energy Assistance Program.

However, possessing an air conditioner does not address another hurdle for low-income residents – the expense of running an air conditioner. The City was concerned that an estimated 450,000 vulnerable residents in the City may not be able to afford to run their air conditioning. To mitigate this concern, the City petitioned the Public Service Commission for $72 million to help cover the cost and protect residents from preventable heat-related illnesses and death, including discharged Covid-19 patients who are at higher health risks. On June 12, 2020, the City announced that the Public Service Commission approved the request to provide $70 million in aid to help low income New Yorkers cover utility costs. This will provide up to $140 per family from June to October. The City also asked the state to allocate a portion of the $900 million Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) funding which it received through the CARES Act to alleviate residents’ summer utility bills for additional assistance.

Responding to Power Outages

Power outages, which most often occur in the summer months are expected. The mayor announced that generators would be pre-staged across the City in anticipation. During short power outages, buses with PPE and social distancing would be deployed for emergency cooling. During prolonged outages, hotels would be used instead of congregate spaces for emergency shelter. The City is still working on mitigating outages in facilities such as adult care facilities and nursing homes and encouraged the state to mandate generator hook-ups in such facilities.

Mayor Bill de Blasio stated, “Summer is upon us, and we must keep the most vulnerable New Yorkers cool and safe at home. We’re moving heaven and earth to get air conditioners to thousands of seniors in need, and I thank the Public Service Commission for approving our request to provide even more financial assistance to New Yorkers so they don’t have to choose between keeping cool and putting food on the table.”

Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot stated, “Extreme heat is potentially deadly and with COVID-19 keeping more New Yorkers indoors, the risks only increase. The City’s efforts to keep New Yorkers cool are potentially life-saving. We can also look out for each other by checking in on friends, family members and neighbors who are sick, elderly, or disabled and may need assistance in a heat emergency.”

HPD Commissioner Louise Carroll stated, “This summer will be especially challenging for the most vulnerable New Yorkers who are dealing with both the pandemic and the intense heat. With this all-hands-on-deck effort to ensure people can pay their cooling bills and to provide air conditioning units to those in need, the City is keeping our communities safe at a very delicate time.”

CityLand reached out to other City agencies, public officials, and ConEdison, but to date has not received any additional comments. For CityLand’s further coverage about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

By: Viktoriya Gray (Viktoriya is a former CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2018).


3 thoughts on “Mayor Announces “COVID-19 Heat Wave Plan” To Protect Elderly and Vulnerable New Yorkers

  1. The non-medical essential workers should get this first. they work day in and day out throughout this epidemic, while making very little money.

  2. Thanks to the author for sharing such a great post. The article was very well written and providing great info about mayor announces covid 19 heat wave plan to protect elderly and vulnerable new yorkers. It can be really great for people like me who are looking for grabbing more knowledge about it.

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