Senate Approves Cunningham/Ruiz Bill To 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 Senators Sandra Bolden Cunningham and Teresa Ruiz which would provide for an annual cost-of-living increase in the amount of funding allocated by the State for the Lifeline benefit program, which provides utility assistance for qualified senior citizens and disabled residents was unanimously approved today by the Senate.

“You don’t have to be an economist to know that New Jerseyans are overburdened with excessively high energy costs,” said Senator Cunningham, D-Hudson. “The residents who qualify for Lifeline benefits, members of the State’s low-income senior citizen, and disabled populations live on fixed incomes, and too often must choose between paying their energy bills and buying other necessities like food and medication. This legislation would provide some of the State’s neediest residents with an annual boost to their Lifeline benefits that is in keeping with inflation.”

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

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.

“At a time when the prices of everything from groceries to energy are increasing, we have to make sure that this special segment of the State’s low-income population is able to make ends meet,” said Senator Ruiz, D-Essex and Union. “This bill would help to ensure that these seniors and disabled residents are able to heat their homes in the coming winter months without having to sacrifice other, basic necessities.”

The current Lifeline payment amount of $225 per year has not increased since 1984.

This legislation was originally sponsored in 2004 by Senator Cunningham’s late husband, Senator Glenn Cunningham.

This measure now heads to the Assembly for approval.

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