Wednesday, May 29, 2013


It used to be that air conditioning was considered a luxury. It was one of modern living’s niceties that made for comfort during the hottest days of the year.  You didn’t need it, but it was nice to have.

It seems, though, our benevolent state and federal governments have turned that thinking on its head. Somehow, over time, AC has become a necessity, a basic human need.  

Earlier this spring, continuing a practice that dates back to the 1980s, the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance sent applications to vendors throughout the state that would be interested in participating in the Cooling Assistance Component (CAC) of HEAP (the Home Energy Assistance Program). Under the CAC, those companies would professionally install air conditioners or fans in the homes of low-income families having at least one family member who has a chronic or acute medical condition that is aggravated by exposure to extreme heat situations. The government will pay for the installation and equipment to a maximum of $800 per household. The program, which runs from April 1 through August 30 (or until the funds are used up), is funded in part by $3 million in federal money.

To the working man, it’s frustrating enough that he is working to pay taxes that are buying luxurious $800 home cooling systems for people whom he doesn’t even know while he himself must deal with the heat without air conditioning or with a $90 one-room window unit that he bought at a discount store.

It gets even more frustrating when he realizes that his taxes are buying those AC units and room fans for mostly those who created their health problems with their own foolish decision to smoke.   

Consider that the ailment most cited in applications -- as well as in the pro-HEAP sob stories shared by elected officials and the press alike – is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). It is a serious lung disease (which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis) that gradually makes it hard to breathe. It is the number 3 killer in America, claiming more than 125,000 lives every year.

The prevailing cause of COPD is cigarette smoke. Smoking accounts for more than 90 percent of all COPD deaths. Only 1 in 6 people who come down with COPD have never smoked a day in their lives. The other 5 in 6 were smokers and they might even be smokers yet: Not surprisingly, if someone smoked enough to give themselves COPD, they find it impossible to quit – 39% of all people officially diagnosed with the disease still continue to puff away.

Now, think about that. If well over a third of COPD suffers, who make up a disproportionate population of those utilizing HEAP, can afford, even after diagnosis, to buy cigarettes, they can certainly afford to buy an air conditioner. Better yet, if you think about how many packs of cigarettes it took to get emphysema, how many of the fancy $800 air conditioners could someone have bought in their lifetime?  

Simply put, the Cooling Assistance Component is rewarding bad behavior by giving free money with no strings attached to those who decided to pursue liberty by smoking, yet weren’t responsible enough to deal with the ramifications of their personal decisions. Not surprisingly, this approach to life may also account for the financial position they are in.

But, alas, as long as we have people who are reliant on government for the answer to all of life’s needs – and, most offensively, life’s wants – and a government that is so willing to give (each party begets the other in a never-ending cycle), I suppose we will continue to see such giveaways. Some will argue (and a majority would probably agree) that we have some responsibility as a citizenry to help the truly impoverished with their food and other basic real needs. But, paying for others’ air conditioning -- who in their right mind, even the most giving, can see that as being the right thing to do?

Well, at least we know all is well in the world if they ordered the air conditioner with their federally-subsidized cell phone.

Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the New American magazine at Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer 

This column originally appeared in the 03 June 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers

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