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Home Heating Assistance Is Still Available; Don’t Be Left Out in the Cold
By Joseph Doria, Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs

The year 2009 is off to a frigid start, but the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs wants residents who are having trouble paying their heating bills to know they don’t have to be left out in the cold.

Help is still available and, thanks to the federal government and Governor Corzine, more people than in years past are eligible to receive assistance through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. This federally-funded program provides struggling households with money to help them pay their winter heating bills. The program is administered through the Department of Community Affairs’ (DCA) Division of Housing and Community Resources, which tirelessly works with local community action partners around the state to get eligible people the assistance they need.

So far this winter season, 138,212 New Jersey residents have received a total of $78.3 million in LIHEAP assistance. If this seems like a lot, it is. But the DCA and its partnering community-based organizations are prepared to help out even more. More than $81.6 million in LIHEAP funding remains available to households around the state who are in need of a hand, a group that has significantly increased in recent months due to the battered economy.

Because of the growing need, the federal government provided New Jersey with $77 million more in LIHEAP funding this year than last year. On top of that, Governor Corzine extended the program’s enrollment period by one month to April 30 and raised income eligibility for the program from 175 percent of the federal poverty level to 225 percent. In layman’s terms, that means a family of four with a gross annual income of $47,700 now qualifies for assistance whereas the limit was previously set at $37,104 for the same sized family.

The expansion of LIHEAP will allow approximately 50,000 more New Jersey households to be eligible this winter season for heating assistance. By way of comparison, 196,000 households were helped last year.

While the amount of a LIHEAP heating benefit is determined by a number of factors including income, household size and fuel type, it can be safely said that everyone who is eligible for assistance this year will get more aid than they would have last year. The extra federal funding has allowed Governor Corzine to enhance LIHEAP benefits for electric households by 10 percent and natural gas households by 17 percent over last year. Additionally, residents who use heating oil to warm their homes will see their LIHEAP benefits quadruple over 2008.

The DCA encourages all people who are income eligible to quickly apply for LIHEAP benefits to ensure they receive assistance in what is shaping up to be a busy year for the program. Also, when people submit a LIHEAP application, they are simultaneously applying for the Universal Service Fund, a state program aimed at making natural gas and electric bills more affordable for households that are at or below 175 percent of the federal poverty level ($37,104 for a family of four). In certain instances, residents will receive LIHEAP benefits as well as assistance from the Universal Service Fund.

People can learn more about the LIHEAP and Universal Service Fund programs and find out if they’re income eligible by logging on to www.energyassistance.nj.gov or by calling toll free:1-800-510-3102. While there, people can get information about how to apply for assistance at the community action agency nearest them.

During this economic recession, it is essential that government do what it can to help those most vulnerable in the community. But New Jersey hasn’t forgotten about households that don’t qualify for LIHEAP or the Universal Service Fund, but are, nonetheless, still laboring to pay their heating bills. Governor Corzine signed legislation in December directing $10 million in state funding to NJ SHARES (Statewide Heating Assistance and Referral for Energy Services), a non-profit group that helps people who have fallen behind on their utility bills due to a temporary financial crisis. The money will help NJ SHARES provide about 12,000 additional households with one-time grants for electric, natural gas and heating oil bills.         

Households can contact NJ SHARES by logging on to www.njshares.org or by calling toll free: 1-866-657-4273.

Even in these trying times, no one should have to go without heat. New Jersey’s federal and state legislators, Governor Corzine, and the DCA have worked hard to expand heating assistance. Eligible people are encouraged to not delay in getting the help they need.

The NJ Department of Community Affairs is a state agency created to provide administrative guidance, financial support and technical assistance to local governments, community development organizations, businesses and individuals to improve the quality of life in New Jersey.

 

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