TRENTON – The Senate unanimously approved legislation today sponsored by Senators Joseph Doria, Shirley Turner, Wayne Bryant and Joseph Vitale that would direct $13 million dollars towards statewide home energy assistance programs for the upcoming winter.
“New Jersey families can expect to pay up to 35% more this year to heat their homes – a staggering increase,” said Senator Doria, D-Hudson. “For those who already live from paycheck to paycheck, this can really break the bank and force them to choose between a warm home and groceries or necessary medications. That’s a choice no one should have to make.”
The bill, S-2935/2944/2159, would require that a portion of the increase in sales tax revenues from sales of natural gas be appropriated annually to increase the amount of energy assistance provided to eligible households. The increase in sales tax revenues is a result of higher natural gas prices.
“We haven’t even approached the coldest part of the winter and already many New Jersey residents are starting to feel the pinch of skyrocketing heating costs,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “The gigantic jump in gasoline prices we have seen this year is also being seen in the prices of home heating oil and electricity. Previous years’ aid levels are insufficient to address this year’s crisis.”
The bill would allocate $13 million in funds to four separate programs focused on providing energy assistance to needy families. Three million dollars would be given to the New Jersey Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (NJ LIHEAP), a federal program that provides assistance to over 130,000 New Jersey families each year. One million dollars would go to the Social Services for the Homeless program (SSHP), which provides aid through all 21 counties. The NJ Statewide Heating Assistance and Referral Energy Services (NJ SHARES), which helps families from having their heating or electricity turned off, would get $7 million. And New Jersey Comfort Partners would receive 2 million to help provide free energy conservation measures to low-income households.
“For most New Jersey families, the rise in home heating costs is going to require a little extra belt-tightening this winter. But for those families whose belts can’t get any tighter, this can lead to a real crisis. Poorly heated or unheated homes are a real health risk, especially for children and the elderly, and we need to make sure that no family is put into that position,” added Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex.
“The spike in natural gas prices meant that the State would collect millions of dollars in unexpected sales tax revenue this year,” added Senator Bryant, D-Camden and Gloucester, and Chair of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. “There is no better way to spend this extra money than providing relief for those who are impacted hardest by the price increase.”
The bill also passed the Assembly today by a vote of 66-8. It now goes to Governor Codey for his signature.