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Home > Columnists > Alice Park
December 21, 2011

NJ assembly members and NJ SHARES offer energy assistance to families statewide

By ALICE PARK
      News Editor

The first day of winter is only a couple of days away, Thursday to be exact. As families and households across New Jersey have already begun turning on the heat, there are many still left in the cold. In an attempt to alleviate some financial burden from low and moderate income families and individuals, assembly members joined forces with NJ SHARES to offer statewide heating assistance.

NJ SHARES (New Jersey Statewide Heating Assistance and Referral Energy Service, Inc.) is a non-profit corporation that offers grants to those who cannot afford to pay their energy and utility bills, in conjunction with a network of more than 250 community-based social service agencies. The organization’s mission statement is, “A financial crisis can happen to anyone. These challenges are often due to unforeseen circumstances, such as a job loss or illness. New Jersey SHARES provides relief to people, who are not eligible for other types of assistance.”

Those who do not qualify for federal or state energy programs or welfare and whose incomes do not exceed 400% of the Federal Poverty Level can apply for NJ SHARES assistance, by filling out an electronic application. Further, applicants must have a solid history of good-faith payments of their utility bills. The grant maximums are $700 for heating and $300 for electricity. While eligibility is based on income and household size, grants are distributed year-round based on funding availability.

In an effort to make NJ SHARES’ tasks more feasible, Assembly member Elease Evans (D-Bergen/Passaic), Upendra Chivukula (D-Middlesex/Somerset), Charles Mainor (D-Hudson), Jason O’Donnell (D-Hudson), Annette Quijano (D-Union) and Ruben Ramos Jr. (D-Hudson) sponsored a bill to allow “taxpayers to make voluntary contributions to NJ SHARES on their gross income tax returns.” The legislation was approved 77-0 earlier this month by the assembly and is awaiting final legislative approval.

Assemblywoman Evans said, “Allowing taxpayers to contribute to this cause directly from their income tax returns will assist NJ SHARES in their work to help New Jersey families struggling to make ends meet, keep up with their bills and hopefully prevent any potential tragedies.” On top of people being unable to recover quickly from respiratory ailments in cold weather, there were a number of homes set ablaze last year due to the use of candles for light and ovens for heat.

“Sometimes people want to help, but don’t know how. Giving people the option to donate a portion of their income tax return will make it easier for even more people to donate, and support NJ SHARES, which has helped thousands of struggling New Jersey families keep up with their utility bills, while they get back on track financially,” said Chivukula. Mainor added, “Everyone needs a hand every now and then, especially in this unstable economy. Often when the choice is between feeding your family and paying your energy bill, the bill will be put aside.”

As one missed bill can turn into an unmanageable pile, O’Donnell sees the bill as a way to further assist residents under duress. Those who can afford to provide low-income households assistance would have a more convenient method of donating to heat and electricity funds. As Ramos said, “Giving residents an easier way to donate will allow NJ SHARES to continue to serve thousands of residents who find themselves in a financial bind.”

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