Friday, June 2, 2017

Free air conditioners for smokers

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 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. It’s a popular benefit, too, as 4,100 households across the state received the benefit last year alone.

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-CAC 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.

The prevailing cause of COPD is cigarette smoke. Smoking accounts for more than 90 percent of all COPD deaths. Only 1 in 7 people who come down with COPD have never smoked a day in their lives. The other 6 in 7 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 – 46% of all people officially diagnosed with the disease still continue to puff away.

Now, think about that. If nearly half of COPD suffers, who make up a disproportionate population of those utilizing the CAC, 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.

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, I suppose we will continue to see such head-scratching freebies. 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?

From the 06 June 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers


Unknown said...

I am sorry Mr. Confer, but I can not agree with your assessment of situation. I agree that people make a conscious decision to smoke cigarettes. I also know that, as a former smoker, quitting can be very difficult. I can not agree with lumping those benefitting from this government policy in to one basket. Are you absolutely sure that your numbers are correct? Do you have access to the applications for this benefit? Are you sure that the households receiving the air conditioners do not have children living in them that have been hospitalized in status asthmaticus 1-4 times already this year? Do you know how difficult it can be to breath in a home that averages an indoor temperature of 80+ degrees?
I feel that your commentary is strictly against government assistance, and is narrow minded!

TonawandaHap said...

I am intrigued by Bob Confers opposition to providing lower income New Yorkers with air conditioners. He says the move is a nanny state support of ill deserved recipients.

The program itself provides air conditioners to people who may be susceptible to danger during heat wave events. Naturally cardiac and pulmonary diseases are foremost of these. Bob chooses to focus on the COPD victim of which 90% are smokers of recent former smokers.

But he suspects the air conditioners provide luxury to smokers. But since smokers currently are less than 15% of the population and COPD victims form less than 20% of these the focus is really on less than 10% of the total population. I will admit that smokers among lower income groups are probably higher numbers.

But Bob may not realize that more New Yorkers die of heat related deaths than any other weather related threat. The second category is Floods. But with 2015 and 2016 as the hottest two years in history and 2017 looming as even hotter health authorities are worried of the impacts on the vulnerable.

The state spends billions on flood repair and control including vast areas still being repaired after Sandy and earlier hurricanes. But the cost of a few million for air conditioners that could prevent the deaths and serious illness and huge societal costs of reacting to these tragedies is portrayed as a giveaway.

The big difference between spending on floods and heat disasters is property. Currently the wealthy enclaves on the Atlantic Coast are getting no end of technical and structural support. The home owners in Lake Ontario have Chris Collins and state representatives ready to spend millions repairing beach front properties that are repairing the same areas that had to be repaired during the last high water in 1973.

But in these equations protecting property is more important than protecting human life. I don’t think these are Liberal / Conservative matches as much as they are priorities. Is protecting human beings from death from heat more important than protecting property from erosion?