By Allie Feinburg

Arizona's congressional Democrats are seeking aid from a federally funded program to help low-income families pay for air conditioning during the ongoing heat wave.

In a letter sent Monday to the House Appropriations Committee, Reps. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., and 29 other Democratic members of Congress from the Southwest requested money from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP.

A federal block grant-funded program, LIHEAP gives states a broad ability to develop programs to help households meet energy needs, a service that's become crucial during the heat wave.

A weekly report published by the Maricopa County Department of Public Health said that there have been 18 heat-related deaths in the county this year, beginning April 11. A lack of air conditioning led to at least three indoor deaths.

“Long-term and life-threatening heat waves caused by climate change coupled with a lack of energy assistance is an emerging public health crisis,” Grijalva said in a written statement. Stanton agreed that there needs to be urgency to help low-income families.

"In Phoenix right now, air conditioning is a matter of life or death," Stanton said in a statement. "The need to bolster LIHEAP and ensure that home energy funding will be available to all of those who need it could not be more urgent.”

The Energy Infrastructure Agency earlier this month said electricity bills are expected to be 2% more than last summer and during heat waves, those prices can increase.

"Without assistance from LIHEAP, many vulnerable individuals and families impacted by heat waves may miss utility payments, which leads to financial strain and even having their power disconnected," the letter reads.

In fiscal year 2023, Arizona was allocated more than $43 million in LIHEAP funds, less than half the other states in the country. According to the National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition, there are more than 630,000 households in Arizona that are eligible for LIHEAP.

"Since LIHEAP was originally created to address cold weather conditions, the allocation of funds leaves many warmer states and their most vulnerable communities well below the national average in funding," the letter reads.

Arizona residents can apply for the Arizona Utility Assistance Program through LIHEAP regardless of whether or not the congressional delegation's efforts work. In order to qualify, applicants must have an annual household income (before taxes) below 60% of the state median income.

Anyone who participates in benefit programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is automatically eligible as well.

The program offers bill payment assistance, energy crisis assistance and weatherization and energy-related home repairs.

"This funding is critical to lower costs for working families and keep lifesaving ACs running," Gallego said in a written statement.

Arizonans in need of assistance can apply online or by calling the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program hotline at 1-866-494-1981.