Cunningham Bill Would Provide Cost Of Living Increase For Senior And Disabled Utility Assistance Program

State Senator Sandra B. Cunningham, D-Hudson, speaks with a staffer before the beginning of the Budget Committee meeting on Governor Corzine's toll road plan.

TRENTON – A measure sponsored by Senator Sandra B. Cunningham which would provide for an annual cost-of-living increase in the amount of funding the State allocates for the Lifeline benefit program, which provides utility assistance for qualified senior citizens and disabled, was approved today by the Senate Economic Growth Committee by a party line vote of 3 to 2.

“At a time when New Jersey residents are overburdened with excessively high energy costs, this legislation would work to provide the State’s neediest residents with an annual boost to their Lifeline benefits that is in keeping with inflation,” said Senator Cunningham, D-Hudson, who serves as Vice-Chair of the Senate Economic Growth panel.

Senator Cunningham’s bill, S-692, would call upon the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services to adopt the assistance payment amount annually. The amount of the increase would reflect the same percentage as the annual Social Security benefit increase.

The New Jersey Lifeline program provides a $225 yearly credit for the electric or gas bills of eligible seniors and disabled residents currently receiving Social Security disability benefits. Qualified recipients must earn less than $20,016 for a single person and less than $24,542 for a married couple.

“The current funding amount of $225 per year has not increased since 1984, and I think we all know that energy costs have increased in the last 24 years,” said Senator Cunningham.

This legislation was originally sponsored in 2004 by her late husband, Senator Glenn Cunningham and passed the Senate Economic Growth Committee in June of 2004.

“I am pleased to be able to sponsor such an important piece of legislation this session. We owe it to our seniors, our low-income families and disabled residents who live on fixed incomes and often must choose between paying their energy bills or buying other necessities like food and medication,” said Senator Cunningham.

This measure now heads to the full Senate for approval.

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