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If you need help finding local energy assistance resources, call the National Energy Assistance Referral hotline toll-free at 1-866-674-6327 or email (TTY 1-866-367-6228)

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The Land of 10,000 Lakes

Working Overtime to Keep Minnesota Warm

An Exclusive Conversation with Longtime Leading Advocate/State Director John Harvanko


Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown


Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a three-part series featuring Minnesota


Minnesota has long been known as the land of 10,000 lakes, and starting in October through the late Spring of each year, many of them because of the state’s legendarily frigid temperatures become temporary hockey rinks for neighborhood kids and aspiring Hockey stars.   As recently as 2014, Fox News reported that for the first time in a century, ” The world’s largest freshwater lake was 87.1 percent iced over as of Tuesday, and could soon be virtually covered, thanks to an unrelenting winter in which the mercury has fallen even harder than snow, leaving ice several feet thick in some areas.”


As recently as October, 2016, local Minneapolis Television station WCCO reported that the Twin Cities broke a record that had held since the start of the last century, 1900, when the temperature last plummeted to 32 degrees BELOW ZERO, a shivering statistic that routinely lands tens of thousands of families around the state braving those temperatures to line up at their local Community Action Agencies to apply for the LIHEAP heating assistance many depend on to avoid the risk of literally freezing to death.  Even as the state faced a drop from 139,000 to 130,000 households applying for program assistance, according to longtime LIHEAP program state Director John Harvanko, in an exclusive multi-part conversation, he clarified that “Our data suggests that changes in the number of households applying for energy assistance seems to track more closely with the strength of the economy than with temperatures given the strong economy and dropping unemployment rates in Minnesota.”



Minnesota’s LIHEAP program serves approximately 130,000 households. According to the state’s most recent data, each household averaged 2.6 members per home, with over 300,000 actual Minnesotans depending on this vital assistance. Director Harvanko broke down the 2016 hard numbers on the distribution of LIHEAP assistance across the state:



Metropolitan Areas (>100K) Non-Metropolitan Areas (<100K)
Households Served 63,000 70,000
Average Primary

Benefit Amount

$352 $589
Total Primary 

Benefit Amount

$22 Million $41 Million
Total Crisis

Benefit Amount

$9.5 Million $11 Million
Total Emergency 

Heating System


$1.7 Million $4.3 Million



Courtesy of a carefully-threaded tapestry of cooperation around the state among its indispensable CAAs, charities and other organizations, more than $100,000,000+ of LIHEAP disbursement funds released last fall reached every family in need. Director Harvanko points to the central role that Minnesota’s CAAs continue to play in the facilitation of funds, emphasizing that “CAP agencies are an essential part of the system providing households with energy assistance services in Minnesota.” Working hard on a daily basis to greet the routinely worried and sometimes desperate looks on the faces of families inquiring about assistance with a warm and welcoming helping hand, Director Harvanko notes that this kind of personalized attention by the staff at each of his state’s 20 community action offices to get to know those families they’re helping beyond the simple statistical surface is essential: “Community Action Partnership agencies are well-established in their communities and are knowledgeable about the needs of their community and the people they serve.”



Amplifying this accolade, the Minnesota Community Action Partnership’s 2015 annual report  spotlighted an inspiring example of this proactive push to go above and beyond in action during the state’s near-crippling propane shortage in 2014, where the Lakes & Pines Community Action kicked into overdrive during a crisis “unlike anything any of us can recall in recent    memory — not since  the gas lines of the 1970’s. On top of the propane shortage, Minnesota’s winter brought severe, below freezing temperatures beyond belief…(and) reached beyond families with low-wage earners. Lakes and Pines, much like other Energy Assistance providers, experienced an increase in requests for help in getting propane when propane couldn’t be delivered or the cost was beyond what the family had budgeted for the winter.  Lakes and Pines staff, and Community Action staff across the state, worked tirelessly to provide families opportunities to safely and adequately heat their homes. This high level of customer  service, with a can-do, upbeat attitude is not outside of normal business and could not be achieved each day without careful planning, management and retention of skillful and compassionate employees.”




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Stock photo courtesy of Pixabay: cc

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