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Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego calls for federal heat relief help

During her annual state of the city address, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego told the audience at the Sheraton downtown that national action is needed.

“Heat causes more deaths each year than most other natural hazards combined — but right now, the categories of national emergency declarations that unlock additional resources do not include extreme heat. This should change,” she said.

Gallego wants the Federal Emergency Management Agency to revise its list of declared disasters to include extreme heat. 

“Resources from pop-up shelters to additional outreach to our vulnerable residents could help us successfully navigate unforgiving summers,” she said.

A national emergency declaration can bring a range of federal assistance — both temporary and permanent. FEMA’s current disaster response includes flooding and mudslides in California and tornadoes in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.

In 2021, Maricopa County reported more than 400 deaths related to heat and about 40% were unhoused people. 

The city’s office of heat response and mitigation and office of homeless solutions recently briefed the council on summer plans. In addition to daytime respite centers where people can get out of the heat, Phoenix is looking for partners to offer cooling centers where people can take naps. Lutheran Social Services is also looking for faith groups to provide overnight shelters as part of its IHELP program, which the council funded with nearly $1 million.

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As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.