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(TRENTON) – As winter weather approaches, Assembly Democrats are pushing for legislation that would facilitate donations to NJ SHARES, a statewide organization that assists New Jersey families who are struggling financially and cannot afford to pay their heating bills.

The bill (A-4048) sponsored by Assembly members Elease Evans, Upendra J. Chivukula, Charles Mainor, Jason O’Donnell, Annette Quijano, and Ruben Ramos, Jr. would allow taxpayers to make voluntary contributions to NJ SHARES on their gross income tax returns.

The bill awaits final legislative approval, after it was released by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee last week. It was approved 77-0 by the Assembly earlier this month.

“We have heard of too many instances where fires have started in homes and people have been injured or worse, because they were using candles for light or ovens to keep warm,” said Evans (D-Bergen/Passaic). “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.”

The bill establishes the “NJ SHARES Fund” and provides for a designation on the state gross income tax return that allows taxpayers to make voluntary contributions to the fund for distribution to NJ SHARES. NJ SHARES provides assistance to individuals and families living in New Jersey in need of temporary help in paying their energy bills. To qualify, an individual or family must be facing a financial crisis and not be eligible for welfare or other income-based energy assistance programs. Recipients must also have a history of good-faith payments of their utility bills.

“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 (D-Middlesex/Somerset).

“Everyone needs a hand every now and then, especially in this unstable economy,” said Mainor (D-Hudson). “Often when the choice is between feeding your family and paying your energy bill, the bill will be put aside. Making contributions simpler by letting people donate directly from their tax refund will ensure residents who are struggling will be able to tap into NJ SHARES for help.”

“A missed bill payment can turn into several and eventually a financial nightmare if a family is experiencing an economic hardship,” said O’Donnell (D-Hudson). “By allowing taxpayers to use their tax refunds to make an automatic contribution to NJ SHARES, we can make sure needy residents will receive the help they need until they are back on solid financial footing.”

“An unexpected event can have a devastating effect on a family’s financial stability,” said Quijano (D-Union). “NJ SHARES is a vital program that deserves as much support as possible, especially in this economy. Letting residents contribute a portion of their tax refund is a wonderful way to ensure NJ SHARES continues to help New Jersey residents in need.”

“Misfortune can come at any time and create havoc on a family’s finances. NJ SHARES provides a lifeline to families who must prioritize between paying their bills and paying for food or medicine,” said Ramos (D-Hudson). “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.”