Senate Budget Panel Approves Measure To Expand Heating Assistance Programs

TRENTON -The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved legislation today sponsored by Senators Shirley Turner, Joseph Doria and Wayne Bryant that would increase the amount available annually for grants to households eligible for energy assistance aid.

“As the price of crude oil continues to rise and home heating costs skyrocket, there becomes an increased necessity for the state to assist those in need in heating their homes,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “My office has already received numerous calls this winter from residents seeking aid to help stem the cost of keeping their families warm. Fortunately, we’ve had a mild winter so far, but I am concerned about what will happen when we get into a cold snap.”

The bill, S-2935/2944, would require that a portion of the increase in sales tax revenues from sales of natural gas be appropriated annually to the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to increase the amount of energy assistance provided to eligible households.

“For many families and elderly individuals, the joys of the holiday season are often tempered by serious concerns of how they will afford to keep their homes heated,” said Senator Doria, D-Hudson. “A heated home is a necessity for all New Jerseyans, and the State must make every effort to help our most vulnerable afford this basic need and not be forced to choose between a warm home and groceries or necessary medications.”

The bill would establish two separate energy assistance allocations for the designated funds. Three quarters of the money would go toward grants that would be used to pay for the restoration of gas or electric services or for the prevention of termination of gas or electric services. The remaining funds would be used for grants awarded to Statewide nonprofit organizations that provide free energy conservation measures to income-eligible families.

The bill would also provide a one time supplemental appropriation of $1.5 million to the Social Services for the Homeless program (SSHP) in the Department of Human Services to immediately assist individuals and families to meet the high cost of electricity, heating oil and natural gas.

“We know that this winter has the potential to be really bad for some of our neediest citizens,” added Senator Bryant, D-Camden and Gloucester, and Chair of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. “We must be prepared to provide them with the financial assistance they will need to keep themselves warm and healthy through this winter and those winters to come.”

The bill passed the Committee by a vote of 15-0. It now awaits consideration by the full Senate.

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