- The National League of Cities and U.S. Conference of Mayors are urging Congress to pass proposed bipartisan legislation that would explicitly include extreme heat in the federal government’s definition of a major disaster, according to separate letters sent by the organizations’ leaders to members of Congress who introduced the legislation in June.
- The Extreme Heat Emergency Act of 2023 would help unlock federal resources for local extreme heat response by amending the Stafford Act, which guides how the federal government doles out resources post-natural disaster.
- The legislation “will empower local governments to establish cooling centers, support vulnerable populations, assist the homeless, and enhance healthcare services during extreme heat events,” NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence Anthony wrote in his letter to Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz. Gallego — along with fellow bill co-sponsors Reps. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, and Mark Amodei, R-Nev. — received the Conference of Mayors’ letter as well.
Extreme heat is often referred to as a “silent killer,” but its presence has been anything but subtle this summer as oppressively high temperatures stifle much of the country. Last week’s letters from the NLC and U.S. Conference of Mayors underscore the fact that many local governments feel under-prepared and under-resourced to deal with rising temperatures fueled by climate change — and the corresponding death tolls.
While the Federal Emergency Management Agency regularly steps in to help communities prepare for and recover from natural disasters, extreme heat presents lesser-charted territory. FEMA has only ever received three requests for extreme heat declarations — all of which have been denied, an agency spokesperson told NBC News. “They did not demonstrate that state and local capacity had been exceeded,” the spokesperson told NBC.
The current list of natural disasters that qualify for federal major disaster assistance includes hurricanes, tornados, storms, high waters, wind-driven waters, tidal waves, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, mudslides, snowstorms and droughts.
Last week’s letters weren’t the first time local leaders have called on the federal government to provide more support to communities grappling with extreme heat. The U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a policy earlier this year urging Congress to amend the Stafford Act to include extreme heat.
The NLC letter outlines exactly where cities could most use federal dollars and assistance, pointing to a need for more cooling centers, which “serve as vital refuges during heatwaves.”
People experiencing homelessness are some of the most vulnerable to extreme heat, and the NLC letter said a federal disaster declaration would allow cities to “extend critical support” to this population and provide shelters with proper cooling facilities. Federal resources could also be used to support hospitals and healthcare providers, which often face increased strain during heat waves as they care for people experiencing heat stroke and respiratory issues, the NLC letter says.