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As summer approaches, Hobbs calls for more federal utility assistance for Arizonans

The number of heat-related deaths in Arizona has been soaring in recent years. As summer approaches, Gov. Katie Hobbs is calling on the federal government to provide more funding to help low-income Arizonans stay cool. 

When Arizona released its first-ever  Extreme Heat Preparedness Plan last week, Hobbs sent a  letter to members of Congress, saying Arizona hasn’t been getting its fair share of federal funding from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP.

LIHEAP is a program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It has helped low-income Americans pay utility bills and weatherize their homes since the 1980s. But Hobbs said Arizona only receives enough LIHEAP funding to assist about 5% of eligible people in the state. 

"I would hope that an increased allocation would allow us to prevent more heat-related illnesses in deaths in marginalized communities who are really struggling," said Kelly McGowan, executive director of the Arizona anti-poverty nonprofit Wildfire. "We're seeing a huge crunch in the community with utility costs increasing for families across the board, people are coming into our agencies with enormous bills they can't afford, or they're making choices to not cool their homes in the summer months, keeping their houses at temperatures that are really unsafe."

McGowan said the formula the federal government uses to allocate LIHEAP utility assistance doesn't prioritize extreme heat.

"The formula that was originally on the books is still what is mostly used, which favors cold weather states," McGowan said. 

Arizona makes up about 2% of the U.S. population, but typically gets less than half a percent of the program’s funds.

In her letter, Hobbs said she would work with Arizona's congressional delegation to advocate for updates to the way the funds are allocated.

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Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent. She has produced work for NPR, New England Public Radio, Southern California Public Radio, PRI's The World, Washington Post, Reuters and more.She has a master’s degree in radio journalism from the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.She lives in central Phoenix with her husband, two daughters, and ill-behaved cat and dog. Her side-passions include photography, crosswords and hot sauce.