14th DISTRICT LAWMAKERS: BPU STANDING IN THE WAY OF ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS FOR FAMILIES IN NEED

(TRENTON) – Senator Linda R. Greenstein and Assemblymen Wayne P. DeAngelo and Daniel R. Benson today expressed frustration at news reports citing the Board of Public Utilities’ (BPU) failure to allocate funding intended to be returned to taxpayers in the form of assistance for low income families. Funding earmarked for the Cable Television Universal Service Fund – created by fees assessed on cable customers — was diverted to help close the state’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget gap instead of being used to offset the cost of cable television for low-income families.

The 14th District lawmakers noted that the BPU also stalled an annual appropriation of funds to the NJ Shares program that provides grants for low-income families struggling to pay energy and heating bills. The agency has instead engaged in a slow request for proposal process that is not slated to be awarded until later this month.

“The Board needs to understand that, in times when people are struggling to make ends meet, these assistance programs are critical and need to be funded appropriately. Ignoring the financial reality of low income New Jerseyans is not acceptable,” said DeAngelo (D-Hamilton). “The Board froze funding for the NJ Shares utility assistance program six months ago leaving thousands of New Jersey families struggling to keep their heat turned on during these frigid months.”

According to a report in The Star Ledger on Sunday, $9.2 million was collected in the five years since the Cable Television Universal Access Fund was created under the law permitting a statewide franchise license for cable companies. The BPU reportedly took no action during the past five years to develop fund distribution plan. The current Administration drained the fund in order to redirect the money to offset the state’s budget deficit.

“The money was generated by fees assessed on cable customers and should be returned to customers in the form of assistance programs,” said Greenstein (D-Plainsboro). “Cable customers are being misled about fees they are paying under the belief that they are going to social benefit. It is completely unacceptable that this money has been used for an alternative purpose that does not directly benefit families in need.”

“”The Board of Public Utilities is not meeting its responsibility to low-income families when it comes to appropriately funding these assistance programs. They need to quickly address these delays. The people of New Jersey have paid for these programs and they deserve to be implemented as intended,” said Benson (D-Hamilton).

The lawmakers said that their offices receive calls on a daily basis for utility assistance programs. However, because of the inaction of the BPU to appropriate funding through the NJ Shares program, they are limited in the assistance they can provide to families during this particularly harsh winter season.

Greenstein, DeAngelo and Benson represent the 14th Legislative District which consists of portions of Middlesex and Mercer counties.