Serving Our Neighbors in Need
An Exclusive Conversation with Longtime Leading Advocate/State Director John Harvanko
Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown
Millions of elderly Americans around the country and Minnesota specifically for decades have relied on LIHEAP to avoid freezing in their own homes during frigid winter months. Minnesota’s LIHEAP State Director, John Harvanko, confirmed in an interview with the Campaign for Home Energy Assistance that “just over a third of the households served by energy assistance in Minnesota in FFY 2016 included household members over the age of 60. Given that seniors are one of the populations most susceptible in low or no heat situations, providing low-income seniors with energy assistance is key to keeping them safe and healthy.”
To add another layer of complexity, according to AmericaPower.org, “489,000 Minnesota households earning less than $30,000 devote an estimated average of 21% of their after-tax incomes to energy, three times more than families with incomes greater than $50,000.” In the organization’s 2015 annual report on Energy Costs on Minnesota Families, the findings highlighted this particularly exposed demographic, noting that the elderly are “among the most vulnerable to energy price increases due to their relatively low household incomes.” The report’s author, energy economist Eugene M. Trisko, underscored the issue: “Minnesota households aged 65 or more, which represent a QUARTER of the state’s total households, have a pre-tax median income 25% below the U.S. median.”
Dir. Harvanko confirmed that more than a third of Minnesota households that received energy assistance in 2016 had an average household size of 2.6 people and an annual household income of about $17,500. Understandably, these financially at-risk households face the unfortunate ‘heat or eat’ dilemma, regardless of if they live in urban or rural areas. Director Harvanko noted that energy assistance helps keep Minnesotans safe and healthy by preventing them from being without heat or from having to keep their homes at unsafe low temperatures.
Veterans represent another fast-rising demographic as members of the Armed Forces return home from overseas and face a new reality. Minnesota’s data show that “6% of households served in 2016 had one or more Veteran household members, up from 4.8% of households in FFY 2015.” Dir. Harvanko was certain to point out that the numbers in Minnesota reflect the relatively positive position of Veterans in Minnesota. Across the state, only 8.3% of all Minnesotans 18 and over are Veterans. Minnesota Veterans have a higher median income (~$38,000) than non-Veterans ($31,000); and Minnesota Veterans are less likely to be in poverty (5.7%) than non-veterans (10.3%).”
Whether the program is serving Veterans, the elderly, the working poor, single mothers and citizens working in rural farms or downtown shared housing, LIHEAP works overtime across the land of 10,000 lakes to make sure every family who applies for assistance is helped. This challenge will keep his CAAs working overtime, Director Harvanko noted, as they race to combat the reality that “we project our program will run out of money to serve households by mid-April in 2017. In Minnesota, Cold Weather Rule protections end on April 15 and households begin to be disconnected from their heat and electricity despite the fact that temperatures can remain dangerously cold for vulnerable people well past April 15.”