TRENTON – A measure sponsored by Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham, which would direct the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to allocate $25 million in grants to help pay the gas and electric bills of households seeking temporary assistance from the New Jersey Statewide Heating Assistance and Referral for Energy Services, Inc. (NJSHARES), or similar non-profit energy assistance funds, was approved today by the full Senate by a vote of 23 to 8.
“No family should have to choose between putting food on the table, and ensuring that their home is warm enough during the harsh winter months. Sadly, however, this is the plight of quite a few households here in New Jersey,” said Senator Cunningham, D-Hudson. “Through this legislation, we would give families some financial relief during these tough economic times, and allow them the peace of mind of knowing that they will not have to make their hard-earned paychecks stretch quite as far this winter.”
Under Senator Cunningham’s bill, S-3064, the BPU would be directed to allocate $25 million in grants to help pay the cost of the gas and electric utility bills of families seeking assistance. The BPU would be required to obtain a report from the designated non-profit organization (whether it be NJ SHARES, or a similar assistance fund), outlining the amount of assistance provided, the income specifics of recipients, and the efforts taken to verify the need for the assistance. The report would be submitted to the Legislature.
Eligibility for NJ SHARES benefits is based on income, a demonstrated financial crisis, and a history of good-faith in utility bill payments. Approved households can receive a one-time grant of up to $300 on their electric account, and up to $700 toward their heating bill. NJ SHARES grants are applied directly to the bills.
“This bill would help families who are normally on top of their utility bills, but because of a recent financial hardship, are having trouble making ends meet. I look at this bill’s provisions as examples of a hand-up to responsible, hard-working families, who may have simply fallen on hard times,” said Senator Cunningham.
This bill was approved by the Senate Economic Growth Committee on December 3, 2009, and by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on January 4, 2010. It now heads to the Assembly for approval.