Aug 17, 2023 - Climate

Hobbs declared heat emergency 12 days after historic heat wave

Katie Hobbs in November 2022. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Gov. Katie Hobbs' extreme heat emergency declaration last week came 12 days after Phoenix's longest heat wave on record ended — and it provides limited immediate relief for those most at-risk of heat-related illness.

Why it matters: The state did not offer resources to local governments or nonprofits during July's hot stretch, when about 300 suspected heat deaths were recorded, per Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

The intrigue: Hobbs and her chief of staff, Chad Campbell, told local media in July and early August that an emergency declaration "was on the table" but not yet necessary.

  • After last week's declaration, Hobbs' spokesperson, Christian Slater, told Axios Phoenix that the governor's office had been considering whether "the facts on the ground merit the declaration."

Yes, but: Slater ignored multiple follow-up requests to explain what "facts" presented themselves on Aug. 11 that had not occurred during the record-breaking month of July.

What's happening: Hobbs' declaration provided two immediate actions:

  • Reimbursement of city and county heat-related expenses.
  • Opening two new cooling centers near the state Capitol.

Reality check: Maricopa County, Phoenix, Tempe and Glendale said they're still reviewing the declaration and awaiting more information from the governor's office. They said they are unsure how much — if any — of their expenses will be eligible for reimbursement.

  • Mesa spokesperson Ana Pereira told Axios Phoenix all of the city's heat expenses are already covered by a grant from the county.

Between the lines: The two new cooling centers are open daily from 8am to 8pm.

  • They stay open later than most of the other 95 cooling stations across Maricopa County but aren't open overnight — the resounding ask from local officials and homeless services providers this summer.
  • The only overnight cooling center is the Brian Garcia Welcome Center at the Human Services Campus.

What they're saying: Human Services Campus executive director Amy Schwabenlender told Axios Phoenix the additional cooling centers, which are near the campus, are helpful and welcomed. She applauded Hobbs for being the "first Arizona governor to recognize and acknowledge that heat is a health issue."

  • She said she hopes the state will open a large indoor space — perhaps the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum — where hundreds of unhoused people could seek overnight respite.

What's next: Hobbs' order also directed state agencies to develop a comprehensive heat plan by March 2024 and advocate for more federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding.

  • The program was initially designed to help cold-weather communities keep residents heated in the winter, but it has evolved to become an important resource for air conditioning assistance in hot summers, Wildfire acting executive director Kelly McGowan told Axios Phoenix. Still, Arizona receives the second-lowest allocation of federal LIHEAP dollars per capita nationwide, she said.
  • Wildfire is a community action agency that connects low-income households with resources. McGowan said the organization will do everything it can to help Hobbs bring more LIHEAP money into the state.

Zoom in: In the interim, Wildfire promised to match $500,000 in donations to its heat relief fund, which will repair and replace HVAC units for low-income families.


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