(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblymen Wayne DeAngelo, Eric Houghtaling, and Raj Mukherji to require LIHEAP handbooks to be updated annually and provide quarterly trainings for employees was approved Monday by the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee.
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program is a federally funded program that allows the State to provide assistance to help low-income residents cover home energy costs.
On October 12, 2016, the Office of the State Comptroller released an investigative report on LIHEAP titled “Administration of New Jersey’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.” According to the report, LIHEAP benefits were awarded to persons who did not meet the income requirements of the program due, in part, to insufficient checks by the agencies that administer LIHEAP.
“The President’s proposal to eliminate this program would impact nearly 300,000 New Jersey households,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “Thousands would lose their access to the basic services they depend on. With this bill, we can help remediate any concerns regarding employee training.”
“Seniors and disabled residents and tenants rely on the financial assistance to help with their heating and cooling costs,” said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). “This was a good recommendation by the Comptroller that, with implementation, will help to improve services.”
The bill (A-257) would require the department to prepare and annually update its low-income energy assistance program handbook containing the governing policies and eligibility requirements for the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and to provide training sessions about the program on a quarterly basis. Under the bill, all employees of LIHEAP agencies who have LIHEAP responsibilities would be required to read and adhere to the updated handbooks, and the supervisors of these agencies who oversee LIHEAP work would be required to attend the quarterly training sessions.
“Continuously updating the LIHEAP program handbook and training procedures allows our state to make necessary changes to ensure the program is working efficiently,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “By ensuring compliance with federal requirements, we grow the pot of funds with which we can get essential home heating assistance to New Jersey families who truly need it.”
In addition, the bill directs the Department of Community Affairs to establish a schedule of days and hours of operation, a toll-free number, and downloadable application on its Internet website to facilitate the receipt of benefits under the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
An agency that fails to substantially comply with these requirements may be disqualified by DCA form serving as a LIHEAP agency.