A New Jersey family of five that earns $108,040 a year in income may be eligible for up to $1,000 in assistance for heating and electricity bills a year through the NJ Shares program, but state Comptroller Matthew Boxer found that even with these generous guidelines, many of those who were awarded assistance in the program were ineligible due to lack of controls and procedures for determining grant eligibility. What’s more, about 19,000 of those truly eligible were turned away in 2010 because the program ran out of funds.
An audit of NJ Shares, a nonprofit organization that administers a state-funded program set up by the Board of Public Utilities for heating assistance to low- and moderate-income families, found that nearly a third of grant recipients should not have received funds due to providing either incomplete or false information to the agency in applications. Successful applicants are required to provide proof of a financial crisis as well as income in order to meet eligibility, but Boxer’s survey found that 70 percent of grant recipients claimed “high energy costs” as the sole reason for their crisis.
By comparing New Jersey’s program to seven other states, including California and New York, Boxer found that NJ Shares offered by far the most generous package for eligibility, in general twice that of other states. NJ Shares’ average grant award was $587, whereas Minnesota, which had the second-highest grant award, averaged $363.
Boxer also criticized the agency for what he deemed inappropriate expense account disbursements and marketing expenses, including charges for promotional merchandise giveaways and catered affairs at New Jersey Devils hockey games.