DENVER, Colorado — The hot summer months have been hard on many American families.
"I'm worried to hear that one of our families passed away because of it," said Mayra Avina, the family support services manager for Focus Points Family Resource Center.
To survive extreme heat, people in many parts of the country need cooling systems. It's something many low-income families struggle to afford.
Luke Iderton is the deputy director of Energy Outreach Colorado, an organization that provides affordable energy assistance to those who are income-qualified. They also work with other nonprofits in Colorado.
"I think where we're most concerned are the dangerous choices that a lot of income-qualified consumers are faced with right now, and that obviously can be a choice between paying your utility bill, purchasing medicine, or purchasing food, or paying rent and keeping yourself and your family housed," Ilderton said.
Ethan Hemming, the CEO of Warren Village, believes the rise in energy prices has come at a horrible time.
"So then we're creeping out of it right, slowly getting out of the pandemic, things are getting a little more normal, jobs and education back on track, and then you have this insane inflation," Hemming said.
Inflation is simply making things harder. The National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA) says electric bills are expected to increase by 20% to an average of around $600 this summer, compared to the same period last year.
"I don't think the public fully understands the implications of high temperatures, ya know heat stroke and other issues related to being in a place that's too hot," said Mark Wolfe, executive director of the NEADA.
While organizations like these are helping people cool their homes, the NEADA says there is a major lack of federal assistance. The priority has always been on heating homes, not cooling them.
"I think the first thing the federal government needs to think about is requiring the states to run a year-long program and not just have a seasonal program that's just focused solely on heat," Ilderton said.
Ilderton says there are more affordable ways to help low-income communities.
"So many of us just think a cooling system is the only way to really survive these really high-temperature events, and really it comes down to adequate insulation and air ceiling of their home and building," Ilderton said.
As the high cost of living continues to impact families, these experts say it's time to shift away from the mindset that cooling is a luxury. As high temperatures become more frequent with time, they say it's necessary for survival.